The truth about constructive feedback that coaches don’t admit

I’m giving up being a coach right NOW.

^^^ That was my brain overreacting when I heard these words….

“Can I have a word? I want to give you some feedback about something that happened in our coaching session the other day.”

(Next is what happens in my brain seconds after hearing constructive criticism)

My mind: Oof! I’m a useless imposter. I’m giving up being a coach right NOW and getting a job sweeping floors in a cereal factory.

(I take a breath)

It’s taken me YEARS of development to take that conscious breath. In the past, I’d be ruminating at 2am about not being good enough and mentally rewriting my CV.

But the truth is it can still feel like an uppercut to the floating ribs. Yep, sorry guys, you may always catastrophise following difficult feedback.

But there is hope.

I’m happy to say this is what happens after the initial body blow:

Me: Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to share that with me. Can you give me some examples of when that’s happened?

(My pulse has slowed, and I can think clearly)

Them: Here are some more specific examples…

My mind: This feedback might tell me something really valuable.

Me: OK, I understand. Any suggestions for how I could improve that thing?

(They’re now enthusiastically offering me their ideas.)

My brain: I wonder what this feedback tells me about the wider system I’m operating within.

You may find your instinctive reaction feels unsettling and for some (like me) it might feel horrid – but you CAN learn how to get to the good stuff in a few seconds.

Recognise your instant reaction. Do you get defensive, angry, attack the giver, fall into victim mode?  Notice it, name it and let it pass. Get curious instead.

Make it less about them. If you end up pointing a finger or feeling indignation at who has made the comment, try to view it as data and look for patterns.

Ask for specifics. Feedback givers can be vague. Your job is to help them dig deeper. When did you notice that..? What impact did it have..? What could I do differently next time?

Make a choice. Just because someone thinks you’re abrasive doesn’t mean you should change your personality. However, being curious about how you’re perceived will make you a more emotionally intelligent leader.

Seek it out. Feedback is easier to digest if it doesn’t come out of the blue so ask for in-the moment feedback as often as possible.

If you follow these steps, I pinky-promise feedback will become second nature.

Please note, I do not guarantee it won’t feel bruising on occasion – but I promise it’s worth it.