Episode 19: Accepting Feedback (Without Getting Defensive)

The Less Stressed Lawyer | How to Accept Feedback Without Getting Defensive

Most humans struggle with accepting feedback. We frequently receive feedback from supervisors, clients, colleagues, friends, and family. It’s always coming our way and it’s unavoidable, so we need to learn to accept feedback without getting our feathers ruffled.

I came up against this feeling numerous times during my tenure in Big Law. I’d have an idea and be told “no” by one of my supervisors, and I found myself making it mean so many negative things about myself, which immediately put me on the defensive. But of course, these negative thoughts weren’t true, and he was just trying to steer me in the right direction. So, if you feel yourself tense up, immediately getting defensive when someone starts giving you feedback, this episode is for you. 

Receiving feedback can be a nerve-wracking experience, so tune in this week to discover how to stop thinking the worst of the comments and critiques you receive from your superiors. I’m sharing why getting defensive is never going to feel good, and what you can do instead when you get some feedback you don’t immediately love.

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What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Where I’ve experienced serious defensiveness during my career in law.
  • How you make yourself feel when you get defensive and assign negative meaning to a reviewer’s feedback.
  • Why your idea not being accepted doesn’t mean you’re not smart or that your suggestion was bad.
  • The importance of working towards a neutral, drama-free space around receiving feedback.
  • Why you don’t need to get defensive and explain yourself, and the learning opportunity that is always available to you in these moments.
  • How to control the narrative in your brain when receiving feedback.
  • 6 steps to getting the outcome you want in feedback situations.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Full Episode Transcript:

You’re listening to The Less Stressed Lawyer podcast, Episode 19. Today I’m teaching you all about how to accept feedback without getting defensive. You ready? Let’s go.

Welcome to The Less Stressed Lawyer, the only podcast that teaches you how to manage your mind so you can live a life with less stress and far more fulfillment. If you’re a lawyer who’s over the overwhelm and tired of trying to hustle your way to happiness, you’re in the right place. Now, here’s your host, lawyer turned life coach, Olivia Vizachero.

Hi, how are you? I hope you’re excited for today’s topic.

We’re talking all about accepting feedback without getting defensive. We have a ton to cover so I’m going to dive right in. I’m really excited to talk about this. I know how much people struggle with accepting feedback, and also with giving feedback, for that matter.

I’m going to talk about giving feedback in the next episode. I’m going to give some guidance on my top tips and suggestions, and how you want to approach it so it’s received as well as it possibly can be. Of course, we can’t control people’s responses, but we can undergo our best efforts and follow some best practices in order to make sure it’s well received.

But today, we’re not talking about giving feedback; we’re talking about accepting it. The reason I want to start here, is because we frequently receive feedback from clients, from supervisors, from colleagues, from friends, from family members, it feels like it’s always coming our way. So, we need to know how to receive feedback without getting our feathers ruffled.

Before we get started, I want you to think to yourself for a minute: On a scale of one to ten, ten being the highest, how would you rate your own ability to receive feedback without getting defensive? Would you rate it higher on the scale? You think you’re really good at it? Do you struggle with this? Do you tend to get those feathers ruffled?

If you do, this is the episode for you. Before I guide you through the steps that I have for you today, I want to give you a little backstory, because as you know, by now, I love a good backstory.

On day three of my tenure in big law, I walked into a partner’s office, he had called me down, and he wanted me to conduct some research for him. So, he gives me the assignment, tells me to go in a bunch of different directions with the legal issue that I was researching, and just come up with any theories that I could think of.

I went back to my office, and spent a couple of days researching, and then I met with him again. I came up with eight different theories or directions to go in. I sat down in his office, in the chair in front of him, I gave him the printout of the email that I had sent with my different ideas. He started going through them one by one by one.

So, as he made his way through the list, I think the first one, he was like, “Yeah, pretty good idea.” Second one, he said ‘no’ and kind of drew an X through it. Third one, he was like, “I like that, let’s research that some more.” The fourth one was like, “That’s pretty good.”

Then, he got to number five, on my list of eight different ideas. I was particularly beholden to number five, I thought it was really smart. I thought it was a great argument to make for what I knew of the case. And again, day three in big law here, so it wasn’t like I was an expert in anything, but I thought it was a good idea. He very quickly just simply said ‘no,’ crossed it out, and moved on to the next one.

A few seconds passed, and before he had a chance to say anything about item number six on my list, I started to explain myself. I started to explain my thought process, explain why I included number five on the list, why I thought it was a good idea. I just started to explain, explain, explain. And that’s when he said it; he just looked up from the sheet of paper that he was going through, with the list of my research ideas, and very calmly he said, “You don’t need to get defensive.”

I remember hearing that and, in the moment, it felt like such a punch to the gut. That because I had such a negative connotation with getting defensive. My immediate thought was, “Defensive feels so weak,” and weak was the last thing I wanted to be, especially in front of this partner, right?

He went through the rest of the list, but all I could think about is, “You don’t need to be so defensive. You don’t need to be so defensive.” I went back to my office and that was still replaying in my mind, “Was I defensive? I don’t think I was defensive. I might have been defensive.” I was just really questioning myself, and I decided to just sit with it for a second once I got back to my office.

When I gave myself that opportunity to just take a deep breath, decompress and examine the exchange that had just taken place, here’s what I settled on: The partner was right. I was defensive in that moment. He got to number five, he dismissed it, for whatever reason, and I started to get defensive and explain why I included that, why I thought my reasoning was right. Why it was a good idea.

I asked myself, “Why did I get defensive?” And this is what I realized, I was explaining myself, and my thought process, and my reasoning because I want wanted him to think that I was smart. I took his comment, just the ‘no,’ that’s all he said, I took it to mean that my suggestion was a bad idea. I made it mean that he thought the idea was stupid. He didn’t say that. Right? He simply said, “No.”

My adorable brain gave meaning to the ‘no,’ and I made a logical leap. I took it a step too far. I read facts into the record that really weren’t there. I made his ‘no’ mean that he thought the suggestion was stupid. When I thought that, I felt really insecure and inadequate, and a little embarrassed, probably. And then, I started to explain myself to get out of that emotion, in order to convince him that I wasn’t stupid, and that my idea was intelligent.

As I reflected on this exchange, I started to ask myself; why would I make it mean, just a simple ‘no,’ why would I make it mean that he thinks my idea’s stupid? There are so many other things that I could choose to think instead of that very negative thought, that I also don’t have evidence to support.

Now, had he told me that he thought my idea was actually stupid, then it might be reasonable for me to think that he thinks my idea is stupid. But he didn’t say that, he simply told me ‘no,’ about a particular suggestion I had made. And then, he moved on to considering the other ones that I presented to him, in my little email memo.

There were so many other thoughts that were available to me, other than; he thinks my idea is stupid, or he thinks I’m stupid, or that I’m not smart, right? Why not choose one of those thoughts instead? So, this became such a valuable learning moment for me. I learned not to give meaning, that isn’t there, to any feedback that I receive. Take the feedback very literally. Don’t assign extra meaning to it, with my adorable thoughts that my primitive brain serves up to me.

And, instead of thinking that there’s anything wrong with receiving feedback, can I switch to an alternate thought? Something along the lines of: Of course, he’s giving me feedback, he’s my supervisor. I’m here to learn and he’s here to teach me. He has a lot more experience than I do at this, so of course, he’s going to steer me and guide me in the right direction. And not all of my ideas are going to be accepted. That doesn’t mean I’m not smart. That doesn’t mean a suggestion was stupid. It just means he’s imparting some of his expertise on to me, this is how I learn.

Now, ever since that happened, I’ve carried that thought with me. Every time I get feedback now, I don’t make it mean anything other than what the person actually said. I don’t explain or defend myself; I just learn.

I’ve also learned to ask better questions, because every time I tell this story about the ‘no,’ and the feedback and the meaning that I gave it, people always say, “Well, the partner should have given you more information about why he didn’t think that item number five on the list was a great idea.” And I tend to agree with that, but here’s the thing, I also could have asked, right?

So, we’ll get into that in a second, about the specific steps to follow with getting feedback. Ultimately, the takeaway here, is that you don’t need to get defensive, and you don’t need to explain yourself. There’s always a learning opportunity available to you.

If you struggle with receiving feedback, I get it. I’ve been there and have done that. But you don’t need to get defensive. I just want to state that for the record. I’ve put together a step-by-step guide to teach you exactly how to accept feedback without getting defensive.

Before we walk through the specific steps, I just want to take a second and really highlight why this is so important. Why you really want to make sure you master the skill. Listen, receiving feedback from a partner or a fellow lawyer can really be a nerve-racking experience.

Oftentimes, when our work’s critiqued, we tend to think the worst of whatever our reviewers are saying. We love to jump to conclusions, just like I did in the story that I just told you. We take their critiques as the referenda on our work.

Now, reacting this way is problematic for several reasons. First, when we assign such negative meaning to a reviewer’s feedback, we make ourselves feel terrible, just like I did. The meaning that I gave the feedback, just the simple ‘no,’ I assigned it that extra meaning, and then I made myself feel insecure, and inadequate, and a little embarrassed with my thoughts about the feedback.

You might be doing the exact same thing. You might be making yourself feel insecure or inadequate, misunderstood, or embarrassed, unsupported, or ashamed, based on how you think about the feedback you’re receiving. Remember, it’s not the feedback that’s causing you to feel that way, it’s your thoughts about the feedback.

Moreover, when we experience this kind of negative emotional response, in any given feedback situation, we tend to not respond well. Because remember, I told you this before, if you’re thinking a negative thought about the feedback, you’re going to feel a negative feeling. And you’re going to take a negative action, or no action.

Oftentimes, people will get defensive or beat themselves up and miss the opportunity to grow and learn. In other instances, a negative experience receiving feedback on one assignment will impact other work. Instead of negatively reacting and getting defensive and explaining yourself, like I did, it might lead you to start to shut down and just resist and avoid those negative feelings that you start to experience through procrastination, self-sabotage, and other avoidant behavior.

Whether you’re negatively reacting in an impulsive manner, explaining yourself, getting defensive, or you’re starting to withdraw, avoid and shut down, none of that’s good. Luckily, with the right strategy, you can control how you respond to receiving feedback.

So, to put your best foot forward and to continue to develop the skills you need for a thriving legal practice, the next time you receive feedback, you want to follow these steps.

Step one, first thing’s first, you want to make up your own mind. Before you submit any assignment or work product, on which you’re likely to receive feedback, I want you to decide for yourself how you think you did. You never want to let the first opinion you receive about your work be someone else’s opinion, you want to anchor your belief in yourself, first.

Doing that, will allow you to control the narrative during the feedback experience, and therefore control your emotional state through the process. This might sound like a silly analogy, but think of a glass of water. And then, think of the positive opinions about your work like blue dye, and negative opinions about your work as red dye. If you add your own opinion about your work first, perhaps you’ll add several drops of blue dye and maybe one or two drops of red.

You’ve decided first, and you’ve anchored the color of the water; it’s going to be a little bit more blue. Now, if someone else comes in with a negative comment about your work, their comment hasn’t changed the water read. If they add a little red dye, it’s just going to make the water a little less blue.

To make up your own mind first, you want to answer these questions: Are you proud of the work you’ve done? Don’t be unduly harsh or overly critical here. Just be honest. Identify the work product’s strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself and answer: What did you do well? What could you improve upon? We talked about this in last week’s episode about evaluating; what worked, what didn’t work, what would you do differently.

If you decide for yourself first, any feedback you do receive will have less of an impact. Asking and answering these questions yourself, before you submit work product for review, will also help you improve your work pre-submission, because it’s going to help you identify deficient areas that you may be able to improve upon before you submit the project for review.

Having done this will also enable you to ask targeted questions when you’re submitting something to your reviewer. If you’re questioning a particular portion of the project, you can just ask for pinpointed feedback on that section, if you’re doubting yourself. Remember, if you want better answers, you have to ask better questions.

Assessing your own work before you receive external feedback, allows you to ask targeted questions that will accelerate your learning and professional development. Another reason to self-assess is that oftentimes, you’ll actually find out that you agree with the person giving the feedback.

When you’ve made the assessment of yourself first, instead of taking the critique personally, you might simply see that you both agree that one or two sections of your work product could be improved upon. You might have a lot in common, as far as your feedback goes. In that case, amazing. Great minds think alike.

I see this so often when I’m coaching a client who’s received feedback. I’ll ask them, “Okay, well, do you actually agree? Do you think they totally got it wrong? Or, do you kind of see what they’re saying?” It’s so fascinating to watch my clients respond. They’re like, “Yeah. Well, I kind of did agree with it. It just felt awful.” And it’s like, “Okay, naturally.” It’s alright, if it doesn’t feel super comfortable receiving feedback that you don’t consider to be positive.

But you dialed down the discomfort of receiving it so significantly, when you actually see that you agree with the person. You make that process so much easier to achieve or access, if you make up your own mind first, before you receive the feedback. So, the feedback’s coming in, and they’re just agreeing with what you’ve already decided, rather with their opinion being the first one that comes in.

That being said, the step is still crucial, even if you don’t see eye to eye with the reviewer’s feedback. Making up your own mind first, puts you in the best mindset to receive feedback, and leverage it to learn the most from it. It also helps you build your self-confidence by teaching you to form your own opinions, and establish trust with yourself when it comes to your own work product.

So, you want to make sure you’re making up your own mind first, then you move to step two, which is find the facts. Once you’ve received feedback, you want to start by separating the facts from the story you’re telling yourself about them. More often than not, when someone says something to us, we instantly assign meaning to what they’ve said. Just like I did, when I heard the ‘no’ from the partner in the story, that I told you a moment ago.

Then, we use that assigned meaning in place of their words when we recount the events in our heads. Spoiler alert, and I’ve said this to you before, our brains aren’t always truth tellers. And sometimes they have a flair for the dramatics, here. All I got was a simple ‘no,’ that’s all the partner said, and I made it mean so many other things.

For example, envision a scenario where a partner reviews an associate’s work, and asks the associate to find a different case to support an argument in the brief. Or, to find a different clause to include in a contract, if you’re on the transactional side of things. Maybe this is in person, maybe it’s in an email.

If the email reads something like, “See if you can find a better case to support this argument.” When the associate reads the email, the associate might think, “The partner thinks I’m not a good researcher.” Or, if it’s a transactional assignment, “The partner thinks I’m not a good drafter.” Or, they might even take the partner out of it, and just make it mean that they aren’t a good researcher, they’re not a good drafter. Even though the partner didn’t say that.

The supervising attorney merely asked the associate to either find a better case or find a better clause. That’s all we know. That’s the circumstance. So, you want to make sure you separate the facts from the thoughts, from the story you’re telling about them, and stick simply with the circumstance.

Then, step three; identify your emotions. After you’ve received feedback, if you feel like I did in that moment, like you’ve taken a punch to the gut, I want you to check in with yourself. How are you feeling? Remember, you want to find the one-word emotion that you’re experiencing in that moment? Do you feel embarrassed? Do you feel ashamed? Do you feel inadequate? Do you feel worried? Make sure you find that the one-word feeling.

How? If you struggle to put your emotional experience into words, I highly recommend conducting a quick Google™ search, it can be a huge help. Google a feelings wheel or a list of emotions, and scan through it. See which ones resonate with you the most, in that moment.

You want to get better and more skilled at identifying the specific feeling you’re feeling. It’s going to help you create so much awareness as to what’s going on in that brain of yours when you receive feedback. So, in the example I just gave you where the partner says, “See if you can find a better case to support this argument, or find a better clause to include in the contract,” you might be feeling, if you’re on the receiving end of that email, that statement, that piece of feedback, you might be feeling inadequate.

Now, why is it so important to name the emotion and to accurately identify it? Identifying the emotions you experience is so vital to receiving feedback, in a way that serves you and supports your long-term career goals. Because all of the action that you take or don’t take is caused by the emotions you experience.

So, if you’re feeling a negative feeling, like I said earlier, you will most likely take a negative action or no action at all. If you’re feeling inadequate, your default response is probably not going to be a productive one. You’re either going to withdraw, or you’re going to get defensive. Also, putting a name on your negative emotions helps you identify the thinking that’s causing your negative emotional response.

Contrary to popular belief, circumstances don’t cause your feelings, we’ve talked about that a ton on the podcast, your thoughts do. Now, when you receive feedback, oftentimes, you have a like guttural response to it. So, it may be easier for you to identify the emotion you’re feeling first, as opposed to identifying the thought first.

If that’s the case, that’s not a problem, just start with a feeling. And once you’ve identified how you’re feeling in that moment, you can use that as a clue, as intel, to identify the thinking that’s causing that emotional response.

Which brings us to step four; you want to examine your thoughts about the feedback. Now that you’ve identified your feelings about the feedback, you want to figure out, what’s the thought you’re thinking that’s causing you to feel that emotion? You can do this, just by asking yourself, “What am I making this person’s feedback mean about me?”

This will show you the thinking that’s causing that emotional experience that you’re encountering. Not only is it important to identify your thoughts about the feedback you receive, because your thoughts cause your feelings, your thoughts, ultimately create your results. You’ve heard me say that time and time again by now.

So, if you’re thinking a negative thought, you’re going to feel a negative feeling. And if you’re feeling a negative feeling, you’re most likely going to take a negative action or no action at all. And by taking a negative action or no action, you’ll produce a negative result. That’s all to say, your thoughts matter, a lot here.

To ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward, when you’re receiving feedback, you need to be aware of those default thoughts that are coming up for you. What are you making the person’s feedback mean? And the example that we’ve been working through, where the partner says, “See if you can find a better case to support this argument. See if you can find a better clause to include in this contract,” the associate may feel inadequate, because they may be making it mean that the partner thinks that they’re not a good researcher, or that they’re not a good drafter.

In this scenario, and this is the process that you want to walk yourself through when you get feedback, the circumstance is just what the partner said, “See if you can find a better case to support this argument. See if you can find a better clause to include in this contract.” The thought that the person receiving the feedback might think is, “The partner thinks I’m not a good researcher, or I’m not a good drafter,” and then they feel inadequate.

You just want to really get clear on that causal relationship. What are the facts? What’s the thought you’re thinking about the fact, about the feedback? And how is that thought making you feel?

Now, step five; you want to resist the urge to defend yourself or beat yourself up. Once you receive feedback that you perceive to be negative, your natural instinct might be to defend yourself, or to beat yourself up, bully yourself, kind of be a mean girl or a mean guy in that head of yours. Just to talk to yourself with some really negative self-talk.

I want you to resist the urge to do both, or either; to defend yourself or to beat yourself up. When we get defensive, we stop listening. And what happens is that we reduce our ability to learn or become better attorneys as a result. We also prevent ourselves from understanding the other person’s position.

Maybe they see something we don’t. Perhaps they have a piece of information that we haven’t been made privy to. When we get defensive or we just start beating ourselves up, we reduce our ability to access this information, especially when we start arguing our point and getting defensive.

Same thing with beating ourselves up, it doesn’t do us any good. Shame and growth don’t coexist, because if you’re feeling that negative emotion, you’re not going to take a positive action. So, thinking about yourself in a really negative manner, is only going to make you feel worse, which in turn is going to cause you to show up worse.

If you want to show up well, you can’t beat yourself up along the way. Instead of taking action in a default pattern; feeling inadequate and beating yourself up, distracting yourself, engaging in negative self-talk, maybe defending yourself, over-explaining, withdrawing at work, procrastinating on other assignments… Instead of doing that, which the only thing you’re going to do, if you take those actions, is to not learn and not improve, I want you to resist the urge to go down that path.

And instead, pause, just take a breath. Think about how you want to show up in this moment, having received feedback. Defending yourself probably won’t create the result you want. Every once in a while, you may disagree with feedback you receive, and believe that, in this example, the case or the clause you’ve selected is actually the best option. And that making a change and following the partner’s instructions would be a disservice to the client or to whatever piece of work product that you’re working on.

In those situations, I want you to check in with how you’re feeling before you advocate your stance. If you’re feeling defensive, misunderstood, or frustrated, you want to make sure you shift into different energy before you make your case. Before you advocate for your position, get curious about the person who’s giving you the feedback. Get curious about their position. Ask questions. Gain a better understanding. Become more aware.

You might want to take a second or two, to gather your thoughts and organize your argument, before you go in and advocate your position. Then, from a much more intentional place, you can approach the person who gave you the feedback with that strongest case for why you think your position should prevail. And the example that we keep working through why your case or clause should be included.

Taking action when you feel confident and compelled, is going to have a much different impact than doing so when you feel righteous and frustrated. Now, in order to change how you feel, to get out of that negative feeling and into a more positive emotion, you need to change how you think.

Which brings us to step six; you want to reframe your thinking. In order to create the result that you want, in any given feedback situation, you need to intentionally select your thoughts. Remember? That’s because your thoughts create your results.

Now, if you’re thinking a negative thought, like I said, you’ll feel a negative feeling, you’ll take negative action or no action, and you’ll produce a negative result. If you’re thinking a positive thought, you’ll feel a positive feeling, take a positive action, and you’ll produce a positive result.

So, you want to make sure, in feedback situations, you’re reframing your thinking in order to get you to a positive thought. Here’s how you do that. Number one, to reframe your thinking, I want you to consider the source. People are going to have opinions, they’re humans, we can put in parentheses, unfortunately. So, they get to have them. But that’s just how it works. People are going to have opinions.

You get to decide whether you give their opinions any weight. In deciding exactly how much weight to give an opinion, I want you to consider the source. Is this person a supervisor? If so, maybe they have more experience, and they’re trying to teach you something. Is this peer? If so, perhaps they’re trying to help you.

Is the person that’s giving you feedback a friend or a family member? If so, maybe they feel worried for you or concerned, and they’re reacting from that emotion. Is this person a client? If so, maybe they’re nervous about the outcome of a case, or afraid about what might come in the future.

Considering the source allows you to put the feedback into perspective, and it helps you move closer to feeling understanding, instead of feeling those negative emotions that you experience as soon as you received the feedback.

You can also just choose to not give weight to opinions that come from people who haven’t done what you’re doing, or what you’re attempting to do. You don’t have to make their opinions mean anything about you. You can literally just discount them; you always get to decide. So, consider the source and then decide if you want to give the sources opinion any weight.

Next, to reframe your thinking, I want you to decide on the result that you intentionally want to create instead. Do you want to defend your point? Or, do you want to create the best work product? Those two things may be at odds with one another. Do you want to learn and improve? Or, do you want to be defensive and argue or debate?

When you identify the desired result that you want to create, what you end up doing is you illuminate the action that you need to take, in order to accomplish and achieve that result. If you want to defend your point, the action that you’re going to take will be to defend your work. If you want to learn, improve your skills, and create the best work product possible, you’re probably not going to take the action of getting defensive. You’re going to get curious, instead.

When you get defensive, you don’t learn anything. If you truly want to learn and improve, then you need to stop explaining yourself, because that’s not how you learn. That’s how you defend. Defending yourself teaches you nothing. In order to learn, you need to operate from curiosity. So that’s what you need to do next, you need to get curious.

Now, what exactly does getting curious look like? It looks like asking a lot of questions. Instead of explaining why you included a certain clause in the contract or case in an argument section of a brief, I want you to ask why the partner nixed it. Just like I could have asked the partner why he didn’t think item number five was a good idea. That’s how you’ll learn.

Have the person tell you exactly how they came to the conclusion. Whatever conclusion they made in their feedback. Come to understand their analysis. Maybe they’ve handled a previous matter where this issue, the exact same issue, came up before. What did they learn that’s informing their decision now? That’s the intel that you want to get.

If a peer is giving you advice, ask them what they’ve previously encountered, to see if they have experience in this area. That’ll inform how much weight you give their opinion. If a friend or family member’s giving you negative feedback, feedback that you perceive to be negative, because of course, it’s always just a thought. But if you perceive it to be negative, ask them how they’re feeling. What are they concerned about? Learn what’s driving them.

If a client’s complaining about something, ask them why. What are they concerned about? How are they feeling? Are they afraid, nervous, frustrated, maybe? Then, ask them why. Once you find out the feeling, just ask them why they’re feeling that way. What are they afraid might happen? What are they nervous about? Why might they be frustrated? What do they want you to know? Help them help you by asking them questions from curiosity, not from judgment.

If you ask questions to any of the people I just listed; a supervisor, a peer, a friend or a family member, a client, any of those people, from judgment, it will come off that way. It’s like bad perfume or bad cologne. You want to truly be curious. Ask those questions. Gather more information. Let it inform how you want to proceed, and how you want to value or weigh the feedback you’ve received thus far.

Then, you want to find an alternate thought. If you want to create a positive result, by taking positive curious action, you need to feel curious and understanding. In order to feel curious and understanding, you need to think thoughts that cause you to feel those feelings. In order to do this, I want you to ask yourself; what can I think about the exact same circumstance, the feedback I received, in order to cultivate those emotions? What do I need to think about the feedback, in order to feel curious and understanding?

Thoughts that start with ‘of course,’ will often help you feel understanding: Like, of course, they gave me this feedback. Of course, they’re giving me this direction or guidance. Of course, they are going to give me feedback through my supervisor. That’s literally their job.

That will help you feel understanding. Or, of course they’re saying this because they feel nervous. Of course, they’re telling me this because they’re trying to be helpful. Whether or not it actually is helpful, is an argument for a different day. But if you can get yourself to an ‘of course’ thought it will help you conjure the feeling of understanding.

Thoughts that start with ‘I wonder’ will usually generate a feeling of curiosity: I wonder why they’re telling me this? I wonder why they said that? I wonder what they know that I might not know? All those ‘I wonder’ thoughts will conjure up a feeling of curiosity. So, use these sentence starters as prompts, and complete the sentences in order to cultivate those emotions for yourself.

Whatever the feedback is that you received, just finish the sentence. “Of course, they said that…” fill in the blank. Or, take the piece of feedback and finish the sentence, “I wonder what…” fill in the blank. That will help you feel more understanding and feel more curious about the feedback that you’ve received.

Another way to slip into feeling curious is to ask more questions. What does the partner see that perhaps you don’t? What are they worried about? What might they be wanting to achieve by making the change that they suggested? What are they looking for?

If you struggle with answering these questions yourself, excellent. That just means you’ve uncovered an opportunity to operate from curiosity and gather more information from the person who gave you the feedback, by asking more illuminating questions.

So, if you don’t know what they want to achieve by making the change, go ask them. If you don’t know what they’re looking for, go ask them. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, it’s just an opportunity.

Now, an example of an alternative thought, and the example that we’ve been working through where the partner says, “See if you can find a better case to support this argument, or a better clause to include in this contract.” You could think a thought something along the lines of, “Of course, the partner’s giving me feedback. They’re my supervisor, I’m here to learn. They’re just here to teach me,” and it might make you feel understanding.

And the action that you’re going to take in that situation, is to not get defensive, to not beat yourself up, and to just focus on the work and make revisions, the suggested revisions. What result do you create when you do that? You show up and learn. You receive the feedback without getting defensive, and you allow the partner to teach you something.

Another option for an alternative thought here might be, same exact circumstance, you might think, “I wonder why he thinks a different case or clause would be better?” And that ‘I wonder’ thought is going to make you feel curious. And when you’re operating from curiosity, what you’re probably going to do, is not get defensive or beat yourself up, but instead, ask for additional feedback or insight.

As a result, you’re going to learn from the partner and make the additional work easier, because you’ve gained a little bit more clarity. Now, once you’ve changed your thinking, you’ve changed your entire feedback experience. Because your thoughts create your results, right? Your thoughts cause your feelings, your feelings drive your actions, and your actions produce your results.

So, if you change your thoughts about the feedback you receive, everything else will change, too. Remember, you get to choose what to think about the feedback that you get. That means you always get to choose to settle upon a thought that serves you. If you want to think negative thoughts about the feedback you receive, you totally can. You get to choose to do exactly that.

You just want to know and like your reasons for making that choice if it’s the choice you make. Start by asking yourself; does it serve me to think negative thoughts about the feedback that I just got? If the thought doesn’t serve you, if your answer to that question is ‘no,’ I highly recommend, don’t continue to choose thinking it, if it doesn’t serve you. Ultimately, you get to choose.

Those are the steps to accepting feedback without getting defensive. I just want to go over them, really briefly, once more, so they stay fresh in your mind. Step one; before you open yourself up to getting feedback, make up your own mind first, about how you think you did. Then, submit it for feedback.

When you get the feedback, step two; you want to find the facts. Figure out exactly what the person said. Separate the facts from the story that you’re telling about yourself. So, find just the words they said, what their exact feedback was.

Step three; identify your emotions. How are you feeling? Find those one-word feelings. Identify them very specifically, so you can gain some more awareness.

And then, in step four; work it backwards. Ask yourself, examine your thoughts. What are you thinking that’s making you feel this way?

Step five; once you’ve gotten clear on the thoughts that you’re thinking, and that are making you feel the negative feelings, I want you to freeze and resist the urge to defend yourself or beat yourself up. And instead, I want you to take a breath and move into step six, and reframe your thinking.

How do we do that? We consider the source that we got the feedback from. We decide on the result we want to intentionally create instead, and work backwards. What do we need to do in order to create that result? How do we need to feel? And what do we need to think?

I also want you to get curious, as part of this process. Get curious about the feedback and conjure up a sense of understanding and curiosity, and then find an alternate thought to think instead. A positive thought that creates the result you want to create in that moment. Rather than the negative result of beating yourself up or getting defensive.

Alright, my friends, you’ve got this. That’s what I have for you this week. Have a beautiful week, and I’ll talk to you in the next episode.


Thanks for listening to The Less Stressed Lawyer podcast. If you want more info about Olivia Vizachero or the show’s notes and resources from today’s episode, visit www.TheLessStressedLawyer.com.

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