If you are working this summer, it is entirely possible that you are going to get feedback at your job, whether from a supervising attorney, in a formal evaluation, or just casually from colleagues. Some of the feedback may be great, but some may be difficult to take. How do you handle difficult feedback without letting it get to you?
Here is a secret—most of us are not perfect. We make mistakes. Lots of them. And we sometimes do things that are annoying or not reflections of our best selves. Since it happens to me, I am sure it happens to you too.
I recently went through an exercise where I compiled feedback from my personal and professional network, requesting both positive and not so positive feedback. It was completely anonymous, so there was no way for me to know who provided the feedback, just that it was provided. And you know what? Some of the feedback was a little hard to take. Although much of the feedback was positive, some of the not so great feedback was a little hard to swallow. It was a good reminder to me that we need to be prepared for negative feedback but not let it derail us, since none of us is perfect and we are all a work in progress.
Try to take feedback as what it is: feedback.
In a professional context, feedback – even if it is negative – isn’t necessarily a comment on your competence or even on whether or not your supervisor thinks you are good at what you do. Sometimes, others are just trying to teach you and help you produce work in the way it needs to be produced. Or sometimes, they notice that you do something that may be standing in your way, so by highlighting it, they can bring it to your attention and help you decide whether or not to make a change. But in order to make positive changes based on feedback, you need to be open to it. You need to listen with an open mind and not get defensive. You need to evaluate how you really feel about it but not get incredibly hurt by it. Shutting down isn’t going to get you anywhere. Listening and evaluating may actually make you a better person or a better lawyer.
If you need more information about the feedback to understand it, ask questions when appropriate.
If you can, you may want to have an additional dialogue with the person giving you the feedback so that you can more fully understand it. Of course, you must be in a good place to do this, and not be defensive. Remember, most people don’t require perfection from people who work for them. But they do want you to be open to feedback and able to make changes based on it.
And sometimes, feedback should be ignored.
Sometimes, we get negative or hurtful feedback that is based on a misconception or is just plain wrong. You don’t want to dismiss all feedback, but you are allowed to disagree with it! Just make sure you are evaluating it and then disagreeing with it and not just dismissing it because you don’t want to listen to negative feedback.
I will be honest—at first I became a little defensive myself when I recently got some not so glowing feedback from my network. But when I stopped obsessing over the few lines of negative feedback and instead put it on balance with the overall picture, it was easy to remember that we are all a work in progress and I am constantly working on myself. We can learn a lot from how others view our work and ourselves. Don’t be foolish and get discouraged or dejected from negative feedback. Instead, evaluate it and take it as an opportunity to continue to invest in yourself. I still have a lot to learn as I continue on my professional journey, and I am sure you do too.
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