I recently finished reading a book called, The Four Agreements. The title is a bit hokey. But the content is spot-on.
The book talks about the importance of creating personal freedom. One of these four agreements to create personal freedom is: “Don’t take things personally.” This really hit home for me. I realized how often I take things personally — especially when it comes to giving and receiving feedback in the workplace.
Our tendency is to interpret the feedback we hear as a personal attack. It’s the biggest reason for why we don’t ask others for feedback.
When someone gives us feedback on our performance at work or about how our company is doing, we get an icky feeling in the pit of our stomach. “What?! How could this person think that?!”
We’re scared to hear something that we might not want to hear. So we avoid asking for feedback.
That’s a problem.
Not wanting to hear feedback means we shut ourselves off from information that will almost certainly be useful in some way.
In any piece of feedback, there is a nugget of helpful information. You’re guaranteed to learn something about a person or your company. Maybe it’s about how your actions are perceived by your employees, or the sentiment about a recent change you made to the company — that information is useful.
You don’t have to agree with the feedback, but you will learn something in listening to it.
The key is to not take feedback personally. Here’s how…
First, remind yourself: “It’s not all about me.”
There are other external forces shaping why a person may be giving you this feedback.
Maybe something happened earlier that day that caused them to be in a sour mood. Or, maybe something happened with their old boss that’s caused them to believe “this work environment sucks.” It has nothing to do with you.
Second, remind yourself: “I don’t need to be liked.”
You don’t need your employees to like you. You do need them to like their jobs and feel fulfilled and excited and motivated to work. But you don’t need them to like you as a person.
The minute you let go of the notion that you don’t need to be liked, by your employees, your leadership team, etc., your focus begins to shift toward what’s best for the company overall. Doing so allows you to open up and hear things that you might’ve previously taken personally.
Third, remind yourself of what you care about.
You do care about your company being successful. You do care about creating the best environment for your employees to thrive.
So if that’s the case, focus on hearing that feedback through the filter of:
“How can I listen for information that will help move my company forward?”
After all, that’s what you want. You want your company to do well. Listen for things that will help you meet that goal — everything else is secondary or irrelevant.
Granted, it’s incredibly hard to not take something personally.
But in reminding yourself of these three things — it’s not about you, you don’t need to be liked, and you care deeply about your company as a whole — you can begin to escape the trap of taking things personally.
By committing to not taking feedback personally, you open your mind to suggestions that could help your company. Employees will appreciate your willingness to ask for feedback — I promise.
You and your company will be so much better for it.