I could sense the tension in the arena and I could tell not everybody agreed with what I was doing. However, I felt confident I was doing the best I knew how and the right thing at that moment... Then from the arena sideline a voice filled the air. She said, "You're doing it wrong!" with a sharp, forceful tone.
I said... "___________"
What could I say? What would you say if someone blasted a negative comment at you? Would you get angry or defensive?
Horse people can sometimes be insensitive, but they are not so different from all other people. In my life, I've worked in lots of fields, from sales to carpentry, to horsemanship, to technology, and education. And I've met many people who can't help themselves from blurting out some negative feedback about what I'm doing or how I'm doing it? Sometimes there is no malice at all. It's just a friend pointing out a way to improve my technique, and other times it's laced with tension. It could be a fellow trainer who feels threatened by my success or a student confused by a new technique and unwilling to open up to other methods.
One thing that helps me deal with these people is the sheer imbalance of numbers when I respectively observe the statistics. There are more than a thousand to one positive comments I get in my life... So what if I get one negative comment? That statistical perspective helps me soften my response and remember not to get too caught up in the rip current.
If you think you don't get positive comments in your life, you're not listening. Open your ears for one week and witness, even record on paper, all the small positive things you hear about you from other people and even yourself. You will be shocked! If you don't hear anything positive you need to see a counselor right away. I hope you embrace how amazing this life is and how many people genuinely care about you.
Another thing that helps me deal with negative feedback is a gift my mother gave me as a child. She said, "If someone laughs at you, laugh with them. Don't give them anything to keep laughing about." She knew that by laughing I could defuse the situation rather than add fuel to it. "Go with the flow, don't fight it."
"If you're caught in a rip current pulling you out to sea, swim sideways. Don't try to swim to shore and recover your position. Instead adapt and find a new position for which you can stand on your feet once again." - lifeguard advice
Defusing and adapting to negative feedback requires a sense of control over your own emotions. And gaining that sense of control might require a little practice in the comfort of your own room. I remember rehearsing with a group of colleagues exactly how to deal with all kinds of questions. We would role-play challenging objections day after day for nearly a month before we set out to take on the real world. You can do the same. In fact, I still do this with a series of flashcards on my phone. I post a possible negative situation on one side then I have to respond to that situation quickly. If I fail by being reactive or negative. I do it again until I successfully mirror the correct response and manage the negative situation by adapting and defusing the energy, allowing positive energy to flow once again.
Find a friend you trust and ask them to give you negative feedback, then practice dealing with it in a way that doesn't make you spiral into a pile of spaghetti with acid sauce dripping from you. Practice saying, "how interesting, let me think about that." Practice laughing or smiling about the problem instead of frowning and spewing angry words at the situation. Practice being patient, perhaps even willing yourself to see life from their point of view for a minute. Maybe they're going through a divorce or stressed about money, and you're just caught in the firing line. Whatever you do, don't practice being up-settable. It will only give you ulcers and shorten your lifespan. You will suffer more than anyone around you when you get upset.
Do you really want to walk through life being so super sensitive to every negative comment that you don't dare step up and be yourself? Do you really feel you have to defend yourself in every situation like you have no self-worth? As if anyone could give you your self-worth. Do you really want to feel hateful or resentful or hold a grudge and let that tension or resentment grow in your gut? Or do you want to be free? Do you want the ability to let things slide off your back and freely move into the spaces and places you wish to be?
If you want to be free, you have to pick the lock to your own jail cell. You have to gain access to emotional control and practice defusing and adapting to negative feedback instead of shutting down or flaring up.
She said, "You're doing it wrong!" with a sharp, forceful tone.
I said with an energetic but neutral tone, "You could be right. Give me a second, then if you're open... we can dive into all the ways I could do this differently."
She said, "Okay," with a softer tone.
Shortly after, a conversation ensued that allowed us both to open up and see each others perspective.
I could have done any number of things to defend myself. I could have stayed quiet and not responded, which is nothing but a silent treatment. I'd never do that to someone I wish to connect with in the long run. I could have blasted out a harsh remark about her that would have put her on the defensive, but I already knew she was defensive based on her posture and tone. I could have cowered and let her take over, making me feel as big as a bug. But I didn't do any of those things. I had rehearsed this same situation before. I simply gave her acknowledgment, and requested a second to gather myself, then opened a dialogue.
Each situation is different of course. That's why you have to practice and role-play using your imagination.
So here's my challenge to you:
Role play better responses to common comments you might receive. Write the comment down then engineer a response that doesn't leave you or the other party feeling defeated. Its tricky but extraordinarily powerful.
I wonder how many people will read this article and think, "what a great idea, I should practice dealing with negative feedback..." then fail to role play anything. I wonder how many people will do the opposite, take on the homework and call up a friend this week or build some flashcards and practice growing their emotional control. I hope you're one of the latter.
The key to dealing with negative feedback is to practice dealing with negative feedback in a positive and productive way. Give it a try. Find a friend, find a flash card app. I believe in you!
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