Giving and receiving feedback

Does the thought of receiving feedback fill you with dread? Learn how to overcome your fear and improve your feedback skills with our helpful blog post.

Fear of criticism

While feedback is a necessary part of healthy growth and improvement, if you’ve ever experienced a churning stomach while awaiting a grade on a school assignment, given a performance or sat waiting for your yearly review at work, you’ll likely feel quite the opposite – feedback is to be avoided at all costs.

But is feedback really the problem, or is your true fear criticism? After all, who doesn’t want to receive praise for their work?  

Sadly, our natural negativity bias means we’re hardwired to sense (and remember!) danger. A skill that once helped keep us safe means we now break out in a cold sweat if someone asks, “Hey, do you have a sec?”

A fear of criticism can be paralysing. Harvard Business Review noted that “fears and assumptions about feedback often manifest themselves in psychologically maladaptive behaviours such as procrastination, denial, brooding, jealousy, and self-sabotage.” 

In our careers, this can look like:

  • Not seeking out new opportunities
  • Being afraid to ask our leaders for help
  • Playing small, despite being equipped for more.

In our personal lives, it can look like:

  • Stifling our true personality
  • Staying in relationships that don’t suit us
  • Living with crippling anxiety.


Overcoming the fear

So what can we do about it?


Understand where the fear is coming from and name it

In an interview for Harvard Health Publishing in 2020, Dr Ipsit Vahia, Associate Chief of the Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at McLean Hospital and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, noted, “The right treatment begins with recognition. Often, people cannot articulate why they are fearful or worry too much, and why it’s happening.”

Pinpointing what you’re afraid of and why makes the unknown less terrifying. We can tend to catastrophize what we’re feeling, so naming the feeling and saying it aloud can be a reality check. When you say out loud: “I am feeling scared because I think I’m going to receive feedback that is going to confirm I am actually the worst writer alive and I can’t do my job and I am going to die!” you can hear how unlikely that is to be true.


Remember that everyone needs help

The feedback loop is necessary for everyone – if we were all perfect the first time, there’d be no need for editors, proofreaders or even teachers. And that’s obviously not the case. Understanding that you’re not the only one who both feels anxious about getting feedback, and giving it, can be a calming thought.

How do we give good feedback?

While our big fear may be about receiving feedback, we also have a responsibility when we’re the one giving feedback. If you’re overly critical, the person you’re talking to might react negatively and emotionally, and won’t take anything you’ve said on board.

On the flip side, we don’t want to be so wishy-washy with our feedback that our suggestions are unclear and nothing improves. There are a few things you can do to make sure the person you’re giving feedback to is more receptive to your suggestions.

Build a good relationship

Unsurprisingly, it’s much easier to take feedback from someone you like, respect and trust, than from someone you don’t. Have you ever worked at a job where a new manager started and didn’t take the time to learn how everything works before trying to change it? Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe it!

On the other hand, the managers who take the time to learn about everyone, their strengths and why processes exist? They’re more likely to gain the team’s trust and respect, making any changes down the track much more palatable.

The same can be said of any working relationship. When you build a good foundation – and know how the other communicates and how they best receive information – it’s much easier to start the feedback conversation. It’s also more likely that your recipient will be open to your suggestions, because they know you have only the best intentions.

Provide feedback with constructive suggestions

Writing can be so personal. Even when we’re writing about innocuous things like banking, we have ownership of our word choices and tone of voice – it’s uniquely ours. So handing it over for someone’s critique requires vulnerability. And that can be incredibly challenging. So be kind. And be constructive. 

To do this, education NSW recommends combining feedback with instruction. In a school setting, this might look like classes and assessments, but with writing and editing, this might look like pointing out where there are weaknesses and offering suggestions for how to improve.

Marking inconsistencies in tone or clunky sentence structure but providing no framework for how to improve the copy is not only unhelpful, it borders on mean.

I know if I handed my writing to an editor, I’d want them to be kind and respectful, and explain why they’ve made changes to my work – so I’m sure to do those things for my clients.

When you take the time to point out why something isn’t working, and offer a suggestion for how to fix it, you bring the writer into the editing process – you become a team.

After all, the job of an editor is to help improve a writer’s work – not tear it down.

If you’d like to see how a proofreader and editor can transform your work and business, contact us today.