Can Negative Feedback Build Your Mental Toughness?

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Can Negative Feedback Build Your Mental Toughness?

Ever felt so small after getting feedback from your Manager that you wish the trap door in the carpet would just open up and swallow you whole so no one has to witness your embarrassment?

Sometimes, our leaders are not very good at having difficult conversations and the very nature of the conversation can leave us feeling frustrated and even angry. But on some occasions, the feedback we are given is well intentioned, delivered effectively and we know deep down we have stuffed up, but we just can’t help either the resentment bubbling up inside us or alternatively, we just wish we could escape.

I was recently reading a great post from LaRae Guy (a former FBI Agent – see her original blog here) on recognising how receiving negative feedback can actually build your Mental Toughness. I recognised that if we are going to move forward, increase our resilience, learn to filter bad feedback from good information so we can actually improve, then we need to really listen to the feedback we receive.

All of us make mistakes. We don’t like making mistakes and we like it even less when someone points out our mistakes. But if someone is skilled at giving feedback and we can listen to that feedback without getting defensive or angry, then we actually create a platform to gain significant self-awareness.

So how does negative feedback help us to build Mental Toughness?

Here are some key elements from LaRae Guy’s post combined with my own reflections:

1) Take the step from Self-Awareness toward Self-Management

Information is very powerful. When we are actually willing to listen to feedback, we can learn so much about ourselves and how other people perceive us. When we recognise feedback for what it actually is – just information to help us improve, then we can use this information to continue building our skill base. We can use this information to take us on the journey from building self-awareness to self-management. After all, we can’t manage what we are not first aware of.

2) See It As An Opportunity for Personal Growth

Athletes can spend hour upon hour studying films of their performance. They look at themselves very critically and readily accept feedback from skilled support staff and coaches to assist them improve even in the smallest of detail. They then use this information to fuel their personal growth.

Dave Brailsford of the British Cycling team speaks of the “aggregation of marginal gains”. Brailsford poses the possibility of just improving every area of your life by just 1%. If this was your goal, think of the possibilities of the aggregation of all those marginal gains for your growth.

3) It Can Increase Your Chances Of Success

Research by Leadership IQ shows that people who are good at managing negative feedback tend to be more successful than those who cannot. In fact the study indicates that of those who fail, 26% do so because they are unwilling to accept feedback.

4) Stretches Your Performance

In another study, it was found that people who ask for feedback are the most effective leaders. According to Joseph Folkman, leaders who are in the top 10% are those who are willing to ask for feedback—both positive and negative.

This study suggests that the worse you are as a leader, the less likely you are willing to ask for feedback because you’re afraid you will hear the truth!

5. Eliminate The Personalisation

The better you are at accepting negative feedback, the less likely you will view it as an indictment of who you are as a person.

Feedback can be viewed as one more piece of data to analyse, digest, reject, or accept as information to make a better decision. Taking it as a piece of data with which to make future decisions will allow you de-personalize it.

6. It Can Aid In Your Self-Improvement

Closely related to self-awareness, negative feedback can be valuable data for self-improvement. One of the most dangerous things an organisation can say is “this is the way we’ve always done it”. In just the same way, one of the most dangerous things an individual can say is “this is the way I’ve always done it”. When you receive feedback, see it as information and be the sort of person who believes there is always a better way to do things.

No one piece of feedback means the end of the world. If, however, you begin to see repeated comments in the same area, you may need to take a closer look at what has been clearly identified as an issue—especially if you don’t recognise it in yourself.

Often I provide coaching to individuals and I hear comments such as “why does this keep happening to me”or “why am I being bullied wherever I go”. When these comments come up repeatedly, even in different work environments, there is an opportunity to consider the common factor – you! How could you use this information and feedback you are being given?

7. You Can Train Yourself To Pay Attention To The Facts

Look for what is factual in the feedback. For example, your boss criticises your presentation in a harsh manner. E.g. “It had typos, incomplete transitions, and it rambled! From now on, run everything past my PA first to make sure your work is up to scratch!”

Could your boss have been gentler in their feedback—yes indeed – no doubt. But you have the option of complaining and getting upset about it, ORyou can take it on the chin and you can realize that there was more than a grain of truth in everything that was said. You really do need to work on spelling and punctuation and you don’t use transitions well.

Try not to focus on the way the message was conveyed, but the actual information the message contained. Do not focus on the anger and frustration of your boss; rather, focus on the errors you made and how you can avoid them in the future. (and maybe as your Mental Toughness builds, you could try giving your boss some feedback about how they give feedback J)

Want to know more about building your Mental Toughness? Send me an email at to enquire about training or coaching to develop your individual or team Mental Toughness.

Michelle Bakjac is an experienced Psychologist, Organisational Consultant, Coach, Speaker and Facilitator. As Director of Bakjac Consulting, she is a credentialed Coach with the International Coach Federation (ICF) and a member of Mental Toughness Partners and an MTQ48 accredited Mental Toughness practitioner.  Michelle assists individuals and organisations to develop their Mental Toughness to improve performance, leadership, behaviour and wellbeing.  You can find her at or