How to Overcome Your Fear of Negative Feedback

How to Overcome Your Fear of Negative Feedback

It is important to recognize the importance of gaining constant feedback from those you serve.

Brigitta Field
Brigitta Field
Content Specialist
How to Overcome Your Fear of Negative Feedback

As much as many of us would like to, it is impossible to avoid criticism, and as a business or non-profit, it is important to recognize the importance of gaining constant feedback from those you serve. Feedback is an important step in the improvement process, but if we are truly open to hearing feedback, some will inevitably include negative feedback and sometimes harsh criticism, despite our best efforts. It can be difficult not to get defensive, and fear of such feedback can stifle our efforts to improve and gain a better understanding of the needs of our clients. By overcoming the fear of negative feedback, it is easier to create an environment that is focused on open communication, improvement, and problem solving.

Learning to accept and appreciate negative feedback is a process that requires time and practice, but there are a few strategies that can help ease the process and make the feedback process a more positive experience for everyone involved.

Practice Empathy

When we receive criticism, often our first reaction is to focus on our own emotions---how our efforts have not been appreciated, the reasons the criticism may be unwarranted, and all the other factors contributing to the situation that the criticizer may not understand. This emotional response is natural, and it can be difficult to overcome our hurt when we have put a lot of effort into a project or service.

Instead of immediately getting defensive, approach criticism with the mindset that the critique comes from a valid point of view, and try to understand the reasons behind the feedback or what the criticizer may have experienced to make them think the way they do. By looking at feedback through another's point of view, it can help distance us from the hurt of having our efforts criticized.

Follow these steps to help practice empathy with negative feedback:

  1. Take a moment to process your emotions before reacting to the criticism. Remind yourself that feedback is not a personal attack. 
  2. Try to see the situation from another's point of view and understand why the feedback was given. 
  3. Recognize that it is okay to have different points of view, and you can listen without having to agree on the solution.
  4. If possible, ask follow-up questions and practice open communication to gain a better idea of the big picture. This may include talking to people directly or refining survey questions to get a better idea of user experiences.

Create a Habit of Giving and Receiving Feedback

When we are in the habit of receiving feedback and making improvements based on that feedback, it makes it easier to see the feedback process as a routine and not an attack on our work. By developing habits of giving and receiving feedback, we grow accustomed to the process of feedback-based change, and soon negative feedback becomes a process like any other.

In order to turn getting feedback into a habit,

  1. Ask for feedback and review it regularly.
  2. Set up meetings to discuss feedback and how it can be utilized in order to create an environment that is comfortable with recognizing areas of improvement.
  3. Portray negative feedback as a chance for change and not as a personal attack.
  4. Review survey and feedback questions to make sure you are doing your best to elicit honest answers and giving room to express concerns.

Focus on Problem Solving

Sometimes, due to funding or staffing concerns, there may be no way feasible way to solve the problem presented in feedback we have been given. In other situations, perhaps the negative feedback really isn't valid, or our feelings about the feedback make us defensive toward change. Even in these instances, we can use feedback to help gage what problems we need to solve and potential ways to go about them.

Here are some specific things you can do to use feedback to solve problems:

  1. Recognize there may be underlying issues causing negative feedback, and it may not necessarily be what the criticism is specifically about.
  2. Identify the need for change based on the feedback received. 
  3. Be realistic and transparent about changes. 
  4. Continue gathering feedback throughout the problem-solving process and repeat the steps above.

Although we will never be free of negative feedback, by developing a habit of listening and action, we can be free from the fear associated with negative feedback.