Advice From a CEO: Staying Calm When Receiving Hard to Hear Information

by | Feb 1, 2022 | Podcast

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In this week’s episode of Reflect Forward: Advice From a CEO, we’re talking about staying calm when you receive challenging information — perhaps something you didn’t want to hear or deal with — or feedback that is uncomfortable. It’s not easy to absorb hard to hear news at the moment. But how we handle ourselves in these situations will either make it safe for the person to speak up or shut down.

During a recent speaking event on having candid, courageous conversations, a woman brought up a situation where having conversations about compensation with your employees triggered her. She had always been on the side of self-advocation, but now that she’s in a leadership role, her team members are asking her for raises, and she’s not always comfortable with what to do or say in the moment.

I gave her this advice:

  1. Say thank you. It’s hard for people to have candid conversations, and you should always commend bravery, even if it triggers you.
  2. Don’t feel like you have to respond right at that moment. It’s okay to say, “I need some time to think about what you’ve said. I’ll follow up with you tomorrow.” Just make sure you follow up.
  3. Remember that we are all humans first and foremost. It’s not your employee sitting in front of you delivering hard to hear information. A fellow human being is most likely feeling anxious and intimated, and how you react will make them feel seen and heard or dismissed and regretful. Staying calm will help build the relationship.

Question of the Week

The question of the week asks, “I gave a peer some tough feedback, and as I was delivering it, I could tell she was unhappy by the look on her face. What should I do?”

First, don’t assume that you know what she’s thinking. You are projecting your interpretation of a facial expression onto her, but you genuinely don’t know what’s she’s feeling. Rather than project, address it objectively and say, “I noticed a look cross your face, and I don’t want to misinterpret it. Did my feedback land wrong?

Second, don’t backpedal or soften the message if the message isn’t landing well. Often, people assume that it’s their content that needs to change. Instead, understand that receiving tough feedback always stings, no matter how tough the person may seem. They are allowed to let it sting – they are entitled to having feelings about what you are saying. But that doesn’t mean you should change your message. Speak your truth with kindness and compassion but be direct. Clarity is kindness. Give them space to process, but don’t backpedal.

Finally, follow up. If you are worried about how the person took your feedback, the only way to know for sure is to ask her. Following up shows you value the relationship, and it allows the two of you to talk about the situation once she’s had a chance to process it, and it allows for follow-up questions and closure.

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