How to Handle Negative Feedback – 4 Tips

negative feedbackNegative feedback is a fact of life. Sometimes it’s fair, constructive, and expected, but sometimes it can be completely out of the blue.   You cannot easily change your boss’s perceptions or motives for giving you negative feedback.  What you can control, however, is how you respond to it.  So learn how to handle negative feedback early in your career.

The way you respond can affect your job security and your self-esteem.  You can minimize the effects of the negative feedback by trying to gain some advantage from the conversation.  There are four things I recommend doing when responding to unexpected negative feedback.  Your goal is to appear composed, humble, and in a learning mode.  This will disarm your boss, leaving her with the impression that you receive feedback well (a positive to offset the negative). You can use the time to collect a lot of information to assess afterwards in order to plan your next move.

How to Handle Negative Feedback  During the Meeting – 4 Tips

  1. Control your emotion and avoid being defensive: This is not easy to do.  Our natural instinct, when we hear something negative, is to act defensively and possibly react angrily. It’s okay to feel anger or frustration, but try your best to control it so you can think with a clear head and communicate with composure. The more defensive and emotional you sound, the more leverage you give the person who is giving you feedback. They will also add “receives feedback poorly” to your list of negatives. Let’s face it, if your boss is giving you the feedback, you will have little chance to convince her that she is wrong at the moment, so being defensive is fruitless.
  2. Express your surprise and ask for supporting examples.  While you should contain your emotions, it is okay to express your surprise and ask detailed questions. You can say something like, “I am surprised by this feedback, since our last conversation gave me the impression everything was going quite well.  I want to learn from this, so can you give me an example of what I did and how you think I should have done it?”  This will come across neutrally, show that you care, and force the person to provide details of why she has this impression of you.  You should also insist on details or another example if your boss’s response is unclear to you.
  3. Ask about severity and how you can improve:  Since you were already surprised by this feedback, you probably don’t know how much this negative feedback impacts your career progression at this company.  Before you freak out, make bad assumptions, or worry unnecessarily about losing your job, just ask how significant the issue is.  For example, say, “I really appreciate this feedback and want to improve.  I am up for promotion in six months – is it now in jeopardy, given this feedback?”  Also ask, “what specific actions do I need to do to show improvement?”  Again, this shows you want to improve.
  4. Lastly, admit nothing but still thank your boss for the feedback:  This is probably the most unnatural thing to do after getting terrible news about your performance, but it’s worth it. Say something along the lines of: “I really appreciate you giving me so much detail to help me improve. I really want to think about what you said. Can I come back to you with more questions if I have any?” You never said you agreed with the feedback. It’s a way to stall so you can think on your own afterwards. By thanking your boss, you can potentially sway her towards lessening the severity of her written feedback without directly asking her to do so. She isa leo left with a favorable impression of your maturity and professionalism.

After the meeting, it’s time to figure out what to do next.  There are only two paths to take, depending on how much you care about your job and improving.  It actually doesn’t matter whether you completely agree with the feedback — your boss’s perception of your performance is reality to her, and you can not change it in most cases.

  • If you care about your job, then it’s best to demonstrate that you are making every effort to improve.  This does not mean just improve and hope someone notices.  Instead, proactively communicate what you are doing to improve every step of the way.  Show your boss your efforts and involve her in the process.  You could very well gain a new skill from this and leave her with a better impression of you.
  • If you think you just got back stabbed by a colleague or an unfair boss, then it’s time to look for a new job.  Writing complaint letters to HR or fighting with your boss are both a waste of time.  Just stay under the radar, pretend to try to improve, and make every real effort to get out of there.  Also, look back and learn how you got back stabbed, and avoid these kinds of people at your next job.

Your comments:  Is this article helpful? Do you have any additional questions?  Add your comments below and let’s have a discussion.

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I am always in your corner.

– Lei

One thought on “How to Handle Negative Feedback – 4 Tips

  1. Ryan Cook

    This is a very constructive and critical way of approaching negative feedback, which is a great skill to have. I had to deal with a situation like this at work not too long ago, and I can see how I employed some of these skills without knowing them explicitly. I haven’t talked to my manager about my recent efforts yet, however. I’ll have to do that ASAP if I want to see the results that I desire. Great article, thank you very much!


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