3 filters for processing negative feedback

Photo by Efren Barahona on Unsplash


That’s my normal reaction when I receive tough feedback. Then, I must monitor my emotions to make sure I don’t do what Brené Brown calls, “armoring up.” That’s because if I’m “armored up” I’m done listening. If I’m done listening that means I’m not open to additional feedback. And that means I am more susceptible to mistakes and developing future blind spots.

The truth is negative feedback is valuable if you have a framework for processing it.

Check the messenger. Are they in the arena too?

This first filter looks at the messenger.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

-Theodore Roosevelt

This quote re-emerged in popularity when Brené Brown included it in Daring Greatly. The filter is easy to understand. Don’t listen to critics who aren’t taking risks and putting themselves out there like you. If you blog, listen to bloggers. If you podcast, listen to podcasters. If you give keynotes, don’t listen to someone who has never given a keynote!

It’s easy to be a Sunday-morning armchair quarterback. The point is that it’s much harder to actually be on the field and playing in the game.

Which brings me to my next filter on whose voice you should listen to …

Check the messenger. Are they a member of your “Square Squad”?

In Dare to Lead, Brené offers up the idea of a square squad. She coaches leaders to write all the names of people whose feedback you cherish on a 1″ by 1″ square. The dimensions of this piece of paper are intentionally small. That’s because everyone’s opinion doesn’t matter.

I stopped reading reviews when it comes to books or podcasts a long time ago. Those reviewers are not on my square squad. I’ve shipped 1000s of pieces of content in the form of podcasts and blogs. Why should I listen to anyone who hasn’t created content at all or at the scale at which I’ve created? Even some of my friends and coworkers wouldn’t make the cut.

There’s a lot of opinions out there, but that doesn’t mean you need to listen to them all or value them equally.

What is the golden nugget here for you?

Notice I said in this third filter, “What is the golden nugget?” and not “Is there a golden nugget here for me?”

The first two filters limit whose feedback you pay attention to. This last filter looks for the gold among the garbage. I am currently reading, Thanks for the Feedback with school leaders who are members of my mastermind. The following quote from chapter one resonates with me and neagative feedback:

And even if you decide that 90 percent of the feedback is off target, that last golden 10 percent might be just the insight you need to grow.

-Douglas Stone and Shelia Heen

There is a sliver of truth even in the worst feedback. Don’t spend too much time obsessing over feedback that is hard to receive. Commit to exploring negative feedback for the “gold” so that you can find opportunities to grow everywhere.

Negative feedback is a part of life, but it doesn’t have to dominate your life.

Host of the Better Leaders Better Schools podcast with over one million downloads 🚀