How to handle feedback that’s hard to hear

I recently got some feedback from someone I really respect, and I didn’t like it.

People have opinions and feelings about what I say, do and decide. Since I’d rather not let those feelings sit and stew, without any response from me, I ask about them. And people tend to give me their feedback.

how to handle feedback that's hard to hear

Whenever someone gives me feedback I know they are taking a risk. They are opening themselves up to the possibility that I won’t like what they say, or that I’ll reject their feedback. Does that mean that I won’t like them, that I’ll reject them? If I want to continue to get good feedback I need to be careful about how I handle it. I always try to say “Thank You” and smile before I evaluate the feedback at all.

Some of the feedback I receive is like gold. “Did you know you have spinach in your teeth?” THANK YOU. Who wouldn’t want to hear that? “When your laugh goes into that higher register it can be grating.” A little more painful, but still helpful, constructive.

But back to the feedback I didn’t like. Just after Jill and I started our podcast I sent it out to a few folks who’s opinions I really trusted and I got mostly very complementary feedback. Mostly. Then came this:

The editor my publisher hired to help me with my book told me; “When you are self-deprecating in a book where you’re supposed to be the expert, you undermine your value.” I thought of that when I read the following sentence in your podcast description:

All wrapped up in 60 mins of 41% mediocre business advice and 54% tomfoolery

You are the experts. I certainly listen for the business advice. And it’s not mediocre. I’d simply remove that word.

When I first read this feedback I thought, “Wow, she’s right. We are killing our credibility!” This was problematic because our show is, in part, based on the idea that we aren’t “experts”; we are just two business owners with problems just like yours. But who would want to listen to that? And ultimately, who would want to hire someone like that? Was this career suicide?

The worst part is that it came from someone who’s opinion I greatly value, and who clearly knows what they’re talking about (she got a book published, right?). On top of that, she backed it up with a quote from a professional editor hired by her publisher to make them into an expert.

What was I going to do?

First I took a deep breath. The anxiety of feeling like I had just “blown it” was starting to make it hard to think — and I needed to think. I went back to why we made the decision to brand our advice as “mediocre”:

  1. We’re trying harder to be entertaining than to be “experts” — the mediocre advice is part of that “shtick”.
  2. We are giving advice to people after listening to their issue for less than 10 minutes. It’s hardly an “expert” opinion!
  3. One of the overall goals of the show was to show “real” business owners being vulnerable. Too often business owners put up a false front. We’re afraid to let people know we have doubts, or failures, and we wanted to try to be more vulnerable. We didn’t feel that being “experts” was in keeping with that vulnerability.

After looking at our reasons, I still felt like our initial choice was a good one. The desire for vulnerability trumped any need to bolster our credibility, at least in my mind.

brad and jill podcast

Jill and I recording an episode of Breaking Down Your Business

There is still the risk that I am losing out on an opportunity to position myself as a “real” expert; but I’m hoping that the way we handle the issues that come up will be winsome and attractive to potential clients who are willing to be more vulnerable — and those are the kinds of clients I want to attract.

OK, so I don’t have to take their advice — but I still value their input — I want to get advice and feedback from her in the future. How do I let her know that I respect her opinion, even though I didn’t follow it?

I thanked her for her feedback — I want her to know that I need it and want it. Then I explained why we were making the choices we made, while also acknowledging the risks that ignoring their advice holds. I may be wrong here, and I want to make sure I can go back and apologize if I am! Then I reiterated my desire to hear her advice in the future.

Not everyone’s opinion is something that I need to “take in” and act on. But all feedback is good information. My colleague’s feedback caused me to go back and reflect on my reasons for pitching the podcast in a certain way. And that is a good thing. We all need to examine our decisions and ask hard questions – it was feedback that made me do that. Any feedback is “true” to the person giving it, so we need to look at it in that context. What are they seeing? Then we need to look at how that information might impact our decision making process. The feedback we get is additional information and additional perspective that needs to be considered; but it may not result in a different decision.

How do you handle feedback you don’t like? How do you reject the feedback, but keep the way open for more feedback from that person in the future?







Photo credit: Paul Stevenson


  1. I cannot believe you didn’t take my advice. That’s it! We’re finished!

    To be fair, it was unsolicited advice and I hate unsolicited advice. And you handled rejection of me very well. You did explain your side of things well and we can still be friends.

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