For some, the end of the year is a dreaded time — performance review season. Even if you don’t work in a professional setting that holds annual reviews, you know your aunt will have some feedback about how you’re living your life at an upcoming holiday gathering.
And receiving that kind of criticism — good or bad — can make you anxious.
Why Feedback Makes Us Anxious
According to Kimberly Leitch, a licensed clinical social worker and Talkspace therapist based in New York, receiving feedback can be anxiety provoking because it is a situation where you are being judged by someone, most likely in a position of authority.
“When you are sitting with someone who is going to evaluate your performance it can induce stress, as the anticipation can cause you to think negative thoughts, question yourself, or even second guess yourself,” she said. “This can be the case whether you believe that you have room for improvement or do exceptional work. The thought of being judged by someone who can make decisions about or impact your growth and direction can weigh very heavily.”
The best way to overcome this, Leitch suggests, is to try to maintain a positive attitude, think positively, and prepare as much as you can.
“Focus on what you would say about yourself; think about your work ethic and the good qualities that you come with,” she said. “If it is a situation where you are evaluated, then prepare to talk about your positive qualities and how you feel you are an asset and why you would like to hire you.”
Receiving Feedback with Less Anxiety
If feedback gives you anxiety — or at minimum, butterflies — you’re likely looking for ways to alleviate that dreadful feeling. Below are five additional tips to receive feedback with dignity, grace, and less anxiety.
1. Try not to react
Before you do anything internally or externally, take a quiet moment. Allow your brain to process the situation, and take a deep breath. The few seconds you take to do this can stop a dismissive facial expression and keep your rush of emotions at bay.
2. Don’t be surprised if good news is tough to receive
“Good news can make you anxious because it may come with something you didn’t expect,” Leitch said.
“For example, if you are meeting with a supervisor and they tell you what a great employee you are, they may want to give you additional responsibilities that you weren’t prepared for. They may want to move you out of your comfort zone into something more challenging and stressful then you are used to.”
3. Ask questions to clarify
Since the lack of control and unknowns that accompany feedback are what can trigger anxiety, it’s important to try and gain control and better understand what is being communicated.
Ask questions to make sure that you understand what is being said. Focus on understanding the feedback you are receiving, not on your emotions or your next response.
4. Take time to process the feedback
“After receiving your feedback, let it sink in and allow yourself some time to think about it,” Leitch said.
“Good or bad it may be useful information for you. It may open you up to a new or different perspective that you were unable to see. It may provide insight and how you are perceived by others. It may not affect you, or it may give you the opportunity to change in ways you normally wouldn’t have thought to.”
5. Separate feedback from judgment
As Leitch mentioned, one of the reasons feedback makes us anxious is because we equate it with judgment.
To keep calm, remind yourself that the feedback you receive is not a judgment on your ability or personality. It’s simply advice on how to improve, or a compliment on something you are already excelling in. Reframing your perception this way can make you more open to hearing opinions on your performance, actions, or behavior, and less fearful of failure.
Receiving Feedback Helps Us Grow
Feedback is important and it can strengthen a relationship. Knowing that another person (who is likely close to you and maybe someone you respect) is going to tell it to you straight creates and builds trust. It’s one of the only ways we can learn about our strengths and weaknesses — without this knowledge we can’t improve.
When you let feedback make you anxious, you only add stress to your life and run the risk of missing out on important insights. While feedback isn’t easy to give or receive, being better prepared to hear it can make a difference in your personal life and professional performance.