How to handle negative feedback

How to handle negative feedback

Feedback, especially negative feedback, can be incredibly painful but also critical to help you grow.

Blake Kohler
Blake Kohler
Co-Founder / CEO
How to handle negative feedback

Anyone who's ever sat in a feedback session knows how painful negative feedback can be, whether this feedback is coming from a boss, a coworker, a customer, or just somebody off the street. Feedback, especially negative feedback, can be incredibly painful but also critical to help you grow.

Feedback is one of those tools that can cut in both directions. We gather feedback to improve but occasionally, reviewing feedback can be demoralizing. Especially when we get negative feedback about something we thought we were doing well.

Listening and heeding negative feedback without taking personal offense is a skill that can be developed over time by individuals and teams.

Here are five tips to help you respond to negative feedback without getting discouraged.

Take a moment

One of the most prominent instincts you will find when someone gets negative feedback is the desire to justify and defend themselves. This is remarkably counterproductive and most often fueled by emotion instead of logic.

Instead of getting defensive, take a moment. Take a day. Take a week. Take as long as you need to be able to respond logically instead of entirely emotionally. Removing emotion fully may be impossible, but decreasing emotion can help make the next steps much more productive.

Assume good intentions

Negative feedback can be easily read as malicious, which can trigger a strong emotional response. When we can change the way we read or hear feedback from a place of poor intentions to a place of good intentions, it can help you overcome the tendency to get defensive.

When we assume good intentions, we can more easily put ourselves in the other person's shoes and try and understand not only what they were trying to tell us but why they were sharing the feedback.

Ask clarifying questions

Understanding negative feedback is crucial. We don't want to fix what isn't broken, and because of how emotional negative feedback can make us, it's really easy to cling to parts of the feedback that we hear instead of the feedback the person is trying to give.

By asking a clarifying question, you can get to the heart of the matter and understand what is going on and how you might improve.

Be kind to yourself

Negative feedback can quickly turn into a storm of self-doubt. Remind yourself and your team that you did the best you could with the given situation.

There is no need to echo the criticism internally. The negative feedback might not be accurate, and If it is true, it is purely an opportunity for improvement, not an indictment of your past performance or prospects.

Take action

Feedback should lead to action. Trying to fix issues that caused negative feedback is the simplest way to help you and your team feel motivated and excited by negative feedback instead of demoralized.

The action doesn't have to be large, but anything that can be corrected or improved will show those who gave you the feedback you care and help you understand that you are in control of your destiny. You can choose to grow and improve or wallow in self-pity.