How to handle negative feedback

Negative feedback can be difficult to take but it is an important way of understanding your strengths and weaknesses while identifying opportunities to develop.

It’s unlikely that you’re ever going to enjoy receiving negative feedback but you can learn to accept it graciously and appreciate the value of people being honest about your performance.

Avoid being defensive

Often our first instinct when we feel criticised is to defend ourselves and deny the truth of what is being said.

Take a moment. If you are talking to someone face to face, pause before you say anything at all. If the feedback is in an email, leave it a few hours or until the next day before responding. Make sure you are calm when you reply.

Your tone is key. Be open to the feedback and non-defensive in your response.

Listen and understand

Make sure you understand everything you’re being told and ask for clarification if you need it.

Sometimes we get caught up in a panic when we hear negative feedback and focus on justifying our actions or worrying about what other people are thinking.

Try to put those thoughts aside so that you can really understand what is being communicated. Ask for examples if you need them to highlight the issue being raised. Again, make sure you do so in a non-defensive tone.

Put yourself in their shoes

Take a moment to really try to see things from the other person’s perspective. Most feedback is not malicious. The other person has genuinely experienced a problem with what you have said or done (or not said or done).

Assess if the feedback is true

Evaluate the feedback objectively. Do you agree with it?

Taking feedback seriously does not mean that you have to accept everything that is being said, it means you acknowledge the truth of their perception. Make sure you evaluate it from various perspectives.

If you can, ask friends for their opinion about what you have been told. They are more likely to be able to give you an honest perspective in a way that you can engage with.

If you genuinely disagree, say so

Once you have assessed the feedback, and if you think it is inaccurate, say so. Do it in a positive way which invites further discussion. For example, “I didn’t realise that’s how I was appearing to other people. From my perspective…” This allows you to state your view whilst also prompting more feedback. It is also an opportunity to share with the other person what is happening for you. That may alter their view of the situation

Respond positively

When someone takes the time to give you honest feedback you should acknowledge it positively.

To check that you have understood correctly, repeat what you have heard back to them.

Let the person know whether you agree with all or some of what has been said.

Suggest a course of action to address any issues that you think need to change. If the person you are talking to is your manager, ask for suggestions about how you could improve the situation or what you need to do to sort out the problem.

Lastly, thank the person for the feedback.

Remember

The people who are giving you feedback are demonstrating that they care.

Those who are never told what they are doing well or what they are doing badly will never get the chance to improve.

As humans we are not able to objectively assess everything we do and the impact that has on others. Feedback can help us fill in the gaps and correct any blind spots.

Be grateful when you are given that help.

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