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Product and Topic Expert
Product and Topic Expert

If feedback is a gift, why's it so hard to accept?

The other day, out of the blue my teen aged son tells me: "Dad, you're trying too hard to be cool."

My immediate response was going to be, "No, I'm not." I would have been more than happy to add, "You are!" Of course, I stopped myself. If I wasn't trying to be such an emotionally-intelligent role model I would have replied with a few 'zingers.'

What’s happening here? Why did I get defensive, deny and even want to argue with what my son told me? Could it be I’m jumping to conclusions and is it possible that what he meant was, “You’re already cool, so don’t have to try anymore.” Possible, but probably not.

Two fundamental domains of Emotional Intelligence are “self-awareness” and “self-management.” To grow our emotional intelligence, we need to be aware of what is triggering these emotions and manage our responses effectively. According to an article by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone, there are only three triggers that make it difficult for us to receive feedback:

  • Truth triggers – when we think the content of the feedback is either wrong or not helpful, we shut this out or get offended by it.

  • Relationship triggers – when we feel the person giving us the feedback is unqualified, because of their lack of experience or because of our perceived superior-standing in relation to the other person (eg. son who knows nothing about being cool vs. Dad who IS cool), we tend to brush away their feedback.

  • Identity triggers – if the feedback is different than how we thought of ourselves (eg. cool Dad), then it becomes a shock to our self-identity and causes us to get defensive.

So now that we’re aware of these triggers and how they impact our ability and willingness to receive feedback, it’s time to manage them.

I’ve already mentioned stopping or pausing myself, so that I can quickly check what may be triggering any negative feelings and using this brief time to form a response I could live with. Whether for family or work, a couple more tips from Heen and Stone feedback include:

  1. Separate the “what” from the “who” – I find this especially important as our own biases and ego prevent us from benefiting from the good advice others offer. Wisdom can come from the most unexpected sources.

  2. “Unpack the feedback” – this means reflecting on the content of the feedback and taking time to think about where that feedback may come from – was it something I said or did? When? How was it perceived?


A final word of advice for those giving feedback: Ask first: “Could I give you some feedback?”

Chances are, most people will say, “Yes, I would love your feedback!” Most of the tension receivers feel comes from the surprise of unsolicited feedback. Even if they’re preparing for the worst, this agreement has already set up the feedback-giver and feedback-receiver for greater success.

A final word of advice for those receiving feedback: Thank the other person for their feedback and say no more.

There is no expectation to explain, defend or argue with the feedback. Plus, you’ll want some time to process it.



…With as much warmth in my eyes as I can muster, and a humble smile on my face (so as not to give away the turmoil inside me), I replied, “Thank you for the gift, son! I don’t know what I’m going to do with it yet, but I’ll figure it out.”


Check out more blog posts in this series: Coach’s Corner.


Just for fun…gifts that fail: