The power of negative feedback at work: 5 ways to deal

The power of negative feedback at work: 5 ways to deal

There’s no getting around it, bad feedback at work is hard to take. It can be humbling, humiliating, even infuriating. And giving it isn’t much better. It’s just awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved.

Unfortunately, negative feedback is also extremely powerful. If no-one ever told you what you’re doing wrong, you would probably never know, and you’d never be able to reach your full potential.

As an employee serious about career advancement, you need to learn how to embrace and own negative feedback. And as a manager serious about helping your team grow, you need to learn how to give negative feedback in an effective and compassionate manner.

It’s always worth remembering that negative feedback shows that people care. No feedback means people don’t care enough to have difficult conversations with you. And likewise, the fact that negative feedback hurts is a sign that you care about your career.

Here are five ways to deal with getting negative feedback at work.

1. Listen

Before you get angry, hurt or defensive, give your manager the benefit of the doubt and assume that they have your best interests at heart. It can’t be easy to broach the subject with you, and perhaps your manager hasn’t done it in the best way, but that’s probably because they feel just as uncomfortable as you do.

2. Ask questions

Make sure you understand exactly what your manager is saying. You can help by asking questions to clarify matters and by repeating things in your own words to make sure you are on the same page as your manager.

What are the goals and expectations? What exactly does success look like?

3. Take time to process

You don’t have to respond to negative feedback immediately. In fact, it’s better to take a few days to process and reflect on it once the initial hurt or anger has subsided.

Think about how you can take responsibility and own this feedback. How can you use this opportunity to grow and show your maturity? Being able to accept negative feedback is a sign that you are humble and self aware.

Mark Murphy, founder of Leadership IQ and author of Hiring for Attitude explained in a Fast Company interview, “If you are of the belief that you never make mistakes, you probably have a narcissistic personality disorder, and it’s going to be really hard to give you feedback.”

Murphy says that high performers are good at accepting feedback and using it as fuel for personal growth. He cites Peyton Manning as an example: “One of the things that makes Peyton Manning effective is his critical self-awareness. He throws an interception, he knows it was a stupid throw the millisecond that ball left his hand. And he’s open to the feedback. He spends hours studying the film. And the interesting thing is that high-performers are way more open to feedback than the low-performers are. It’s the low-performers, when you ask them, ‘What’s a time that you received feedback?’ who say, ‘I don’t know, I don’t really get much feedback.’ Really?”

4. Use it to deepen relationships

Once you have come to terms with the feedback, ask your manager for a follow-up meeting to discuss. This is a good opportunity to be open and honest with your manager about your weaknesses and how you need their help to improve.

Relationships are built on trust, and nothing builds trust like sharing your vulnerabilities and asking for help. Any manager worth their salt will be more than happy to listen to you and help you as you work to improve yourself.

5. Make a SMART plan

Sit down with your manager and list a couple of actions you can take to address each negative comment. For example, if working with others is a challenge for you, you might want to take the time to grab a drink with each colleague and get to know them a bit better, ask for 360° feedback, and read a relevant book.

Bear in mind that goals are much easier to attain if you make sure they’re SMART:

  • Specific: what exactly do you need to do?
  • Measurable: how will you know you have achieved your goal?
  • Attainable: can you actually achieve these goals, or do you need additional help?
  • Relevant: will these goals help you grow?
  • Time sensitive: what is your deadline for achieving these goals?

Dealing with negative feedback is never easy, but by keeping cool and following these 5 steps, you’ll be able to turn it around and show management what you’re made of.

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