43

Following a networking event, I was told that I was considered "embarrassing" and that my companions did not wish to be associated with me because of this.

I personally found this exceedingly hurtful; I consider myself enthusiastic, but fairly professional and respectable. I would grant that my conduct at the event was a bit more casual than perhaps anticipated, but I was found no fault with my behavior until it was pointed out to me -- astonishing because I am usually exceedingly self-conscious and likely to overthink everything.

At the time, I stammered something out of no consequence and removed myself from that situation expeditiously. How should I have handled it? How does one accept feedback that is personally hurtful? And, finally, how does one make clear that such feedback was hurtful on a personal level?

  • Did you imbibe alcohol? Did you do exceedingly well at or poorly in a competitive game? – Justin Dearing Apr 17 '12 at 20:17
  • @JustinDearing Neither occurred. – Aarthi Apr 17 '12 at 20:42
  • On the surface it sounds like the person used the wrong approach. The choice of "embarrassing" was poor. You only stated how you usually act, and not how you acted in this situation. Feedback by a boss to correct behavior or set expectations may have been appropriate. Though "embarrassing" was a bad choice of words, I think the person claiming to state the position of the team was wrong. I doubt he/she can read into everyone's mind. I suggest you state your actions, state who provided the feedback and why they thought they could speak for the team or companions. – user25792 Oct 13 '18 at 8:23
41

It sounds like you are asking how to deal with it in the moment, not in the long term. I'll try to help with both.

Why would someone say such a thing?

Knowing how to react is going to require understanding why a person would say something like that.

  • They may have been uncomfortable and were carelessly expressing their feelings, either rightly or wrongly.
  • They may be entirely wrong and are simply trying to tear you down.
  • They may have no regard for your feelings and were calling it as they see it.

In the moment

Reacting appropriately in the moment is something that comes natural to some people and takes endless training for others (like myself).

If you are simply so surprised that you are speechless, I would either do as you did, thank them and leave, or simply ask a question: "Can you please explain? I'm not sure I understand."

If they are asserting that others share their opinion as well, I wouldn't hesitate to ask them to back that up. When it's about something negative, they really shouldn't be speaking for others, anyway.

If you believe they've expressed all they can and you'd like to not dig into it any further, simply apologize in a polite, but ambiguous way: "I'm sorry that what I've done has caused you to feel that way, I'll consider that in the future."

Unfortunately, in a professional setting, there's probably not much benefit from letting someone know that something was hurtful. Taking the high road will be seen as gracious by better people, and a hurtful person is probably not going to recognize the problem. A careless person could end up simply blaming you for taking offense.

Afterward

The only approach is to remove your bias and be rational.

  • The feedback could be completely wrong; after all, smart rational people are usually also tactful. If you consider the feedback carefully, solicit some opinions, and can't find anything you could have done better, then I would move on and don't let it hurt you.

  • The feedback could be correct, but only from a certain perspective. Some people dislike overly-casual people. Others may really like casual people. So, you may not need to change anything. Often, those people that dislike overly-casual people believe that everyone else sees the world as they do, when that's not the case.

  • Maybe you could have done something better, but the feedback was expressed in a clumsy, inaccurate or overly-hurtful manner. In this case, maybe you could find something you said that you shouldn't have, and you can be more careful in the future, but this person was equally inconsiderate in expressing something they weren't prepared to communicate constructively.

  • The feedback is correct but blunt. Hopefully this isn't the case; From the professional and thoughtful manner in which you asked this question, I would guess it is not.

39

... I was considered "embarrassing" and that my companions did not wish to be associated with me because of this...

I consider this statement to be abusive. Making vague allegations backed by vague references like "Everyone else thinks so too" is a common tactic of abusers. Someone who wanted to help you would have given you specific advice, and left out the part about "Everyone else".

This remark may say much more about your critic than it does about you. If you report to this person, directly or indirectly, then you are in trouble and should be seeking other opportunities. Things will only get worse.

If the critic is merely a colleague, then I would go talk to your supervisor, or other colleagues who were present and get their opinion. If they agree (unlikely IMO), then of course you want to find out what specific behavior was a problem, and correct it.

If your colleagues don't have a problem, then the critic is simply malicious. You need to be extremely careful in your interactions with the critic. Avoid him or her as much as possible. Do not share any information unless absolutely necessary to perform your job. Do not take any action based solely on verbal communication. Follow up any verbal agreements with an E-mail confirmation. Keep a private log (time, date, specific wording) of any unpleasant remarks, starting with the one you have already reported. In short, Cover Your Ass. It's quite possible you have never met anyone this nasty before.

  • 2
    Yes, exactly, this reeks of a person who is out to get you politically and to make you look bad to others. Do not trust this person, document everything and make sure to be the one who takes the high road. Talk to others to see if they feel the criticism was valid, but well over 90% of teim when it is presented like this, it is to make you look bad. Be very wary of this person in the future. – HLGEM Apr 10 '12 at 22:51
  • +1 I consider this statement to be emotionally abusive. The colleagues statement is designed to get the OP to self-attack and doubt themself which is a common tactic of an abuser. The abusers aim is to make the other person feel small to bring them down to their level because they themself feel small. If the colleague was truly interested in helping the OP learn something he could have expressed emotions without conclusions as this leaves an opportunity for the colleague to process their own emotions, maybe the statement is projecting how his parents reacted at an "embarrassing" behaviour. – Jonathan May 11 '12 at 18:57
  • As you say, "vague allegations backed by vague references" should be ignored. +1. – TRiG Mar 5 '13 at 21:03
24

How does one accept feedback that is personally hurtful?

Welcome to work. We've all had a time in our lives where a boss, colleague or subordinate has decided for whatever reason to criticise.

It comes down to two sides of the coin:

  • The colleague may not have handled the interaction well at all, for a variety of reasons including work and personal life issues.
  • You may have overreacted to the feedback, or misinterpreted it or taken it badly as a result of however you were feeling at the time.

In light of this, one of the best things to do (and you did) is to leave and then process this. I spent quite a lot of time doing CBT and the technique we'd use here would be to draw a nice table:

Statement: Ninefingers is really annoying at work.

Evidence For         |   Evidence Against
-----------------------------------------
 * Yes, I have a     | * However, we do have 
   tendency to joke  |   a joke culture in the office.
   around            | * My joking is mostly infrequent.
 * Sometimes, I think| * My jokes are funny, whereas
   my colleagues     |   what Fred says is downright 
   find me           |   inappropriate.
   overbearing       |

This is a contrived, silly example but what we're doing here is to rationalise the statement, decide how much we actually agree with it and then work out if the criticism is actually based on something we want to change, or not. The idea is to be honest, place evidence in each of the columns based on observable facts and come to a conclusion.

One avenue is to seek the opinions of other colleagues; however, I would avoid mentioning that it is in response to criticism. For example, you might have received the criticism in my table and ask a colleague:

Fred, do you think I need to tone down by humour a little?

This will give you a third party perspective, which can be vital, especially if you tend to be very self-critical.

15

Removing yourself from the situation was a good call. Reacting in an emotional manner (aggresive, defensive, upset, etc.) is not a great idea on the spot.

Usually in a time like this it works best to work with the facts of what occured and focus feedback and responses from what actually occured. Do not let past occurances unrelated slip into the conversation and make this into a bigger deal than what occured.

The main step is to speak offline in private 1 on 1 with the person who provided the feedback. Tell them it caught you off guard and expalin (as you did above) your line of thinking and what you feel occured. The goal is that you each tell your side of what happened and hope that something productive occus from the situation. Sometime the productive byproduct in a situation like this is learning more about your peers and what is acceptable in the wrok environment.

As far as feeling offended or hurt, that's natural. No one likes to hear what they have done wrong. Most say "Oh yeah I love constructive criticism", but in reality very few do. At the end of the day be honest with yourself. If you were a bit out of line, thank the person for the feedback and consider it a learning experience. If you feel you were truly mistreated or scolded inappropriately, then the 1 on 1 conversation will hopefully sort that issue out so that you may be understood better.

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    +1 Most say "Oh yeah I love constructive criticism", but in reality very few do. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 10 '12 at 20:52
13

You don't have to respond immediately; what you did was fine. But sometime when you've recovered it might be worth drilling into this - what about your behavior was "embarrassing" to the person who said this? Is this opinion truly widely shared? Do you have a confidant you can go to who can give you some coaching or feedback in this area?

Look, if you snort when you laugh and some hipsters don't like this, too bad for them. But if you have an awful habit of which you're unaware, it's worth your while to find out about it even if it causes you some pain.

9

I was considered "embarrassing" and that my companions did not wish to be associated with me because of this

...seems a bit emotionally charged, and I wouldn't consider it valuable feedback. If you have doubts about your conduct, you should ask someone else that was present for feedback, and it wouldn't hurt to gather similar feedback for past events.

And never bother responding. I understand that the moment was awkward and hurtful, but you'll need to toughen up a bit and deal with it: Smile, thank them for their feedback, ensure them you'll take it under consideration and walk away.

If you manage to keep smiling while you do all that, it'll confuse them even more ;)

1

The difference between constructive criticism and not is often clear. You need to separate what's constructive in their criticism (specific behaviors that can be avoided) and what is not (name-calling, ad hominem attacks, irrelevant details, etc.) If they were vague in their criticism, you can follow up later and ask for specifics in how to improve yourself. If they said some things that were uncalled for, you can mention that "this was not necessary and irrelevant to improving the situation"

1

I would always rather receive painful feedback, than have people avoid telling me something to protect my feelings. Nobody's perfect (including me), and we all have huge blind spots to our flaws. It's nice to occasionally (not too often, but every once in a while) have someone be blunt and tell me what I'm doing wrong. Sure, it hurts and is embarassing, but better to know and correct the behavior, than to not know and have everyone think it when they encounter me.

I try not to take it personally, and I thank the person for their valuable feedback. Seriously.

If it's something I can change, I work on it. If not, I move on and say, "sorry, world. This is me. Take it or leave it."

1

And, finally, how does one make clear that such feedback was hurtful on a personal level?

I don't feel that anyone answered this question in a direct or practical manner. The ABC Statement is an excellent tool for communicating feelings:

"When you do [A], it makes me feel [B], because [C]."

[A] is the action the individual is responsible for (should be a fact that can be agreed upon in present-tense). "When you say everyone thinks of me as embarrassing..."

[B] is the feeling that results from the [A]. "...It makes me feel hurt..."

[C] explains how the action and feeling are connected. "...because it is a attack on my character."

Altogether: "When you say everyone thinks of me as embarrassing, it makes me feel hurt because it is an attack on my character."

Most people when communicating feelings forget the 'because', sometimes making it difficult to understand. ie "When you bring me flowers I get so angry!" verses "When you bring me flowers, it makes me angry, because it reminds me of my mother's funeral."

Benefits: Provided that [A] is fact, this format is hard to dismantle. The only argument against such a statement is to either deny the fact, argue with what you are feeling, or try and and break the link between the feelings and the cause. None will improve the subject's standing. Facts are facts, your feelings are yours.

Emotions are complicated. When the bearer is working to articulate this statement it forces them to name exactly what they are feeling and why, improving emotional intelligence.

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