When you receive negative feedback, it can be hard to embrace it and process it skillfully so it benefits you. Some do amount to useless criticism that just tears you down, rather than help you identify blind spots and bolster your strengths. But you can’t grow, be your best self, and reach your highest potential unless you’re willing to accept constructive feedback and recognize its worth.
Here are ways to deal effectively with negative feedback:
Realize opinions are not universal truths. Feedback reflects the giver’s opinion of you, your work and your performance. It has more to do with their expectations, likes and dislikes, perceptions of what should be, and how the world works.
When a person responds negatively to what you offer, it doesn’t mean others feel or think the same way. How you do things will please some people, but not everyone. Stay attuned especially to common themes that permeate different people’s feedback.
You can choose to make changes and tweaks based on other’s opinions that resonate with you, without considering them as universal truth. Or you can maintain your behavior, but switch to a more suitable environment (such as taking on a new role, becoming self-employed, or focusing on another target audience.) You get to choose when to incorporate advice and when to ignore it.
Receive the information without judgment. Negative feedback can lead to feelings of anger, hurt, shame, and inadequacy. It’s tempting to stop listening or internally block out the information, take a defensive stance, or engage in counter-attacks to get rid of such feelings.
To truly benefit from feedback, however, you need to listen to it without judgement. Pause. Breathe. Stay curious. Ask questions. Refrain from agreeing or disagreeing right away. Even admit that the feedback is hard to hear. Simply allow your feelings to come and go, instead of fusing with them or giving in to the impulse to fix them.
Take time to process the information – even a day or more – before you give a response (if one is necessary or appropriate). Trusting your instincts is a good thing, but gut reactions or half-baked replies can get you in trouble as well. Giving an immediate rebuttal comes across as defensive, so it’s better to explain the challenges later to clear up misconceptions and address unfair criticism. Reflecting on the feedback allows you to create a workable plan of action.
Distinguish between feedback and criticism. Consider the source. Some people really have your well being in mind and want to help you. Others just like to focus on the negatives without offering any tips or insights on how to improve. You don’t have to put up with or respond to insults, character assassinations, and name calling that are pure criticism and offer no constructive feedback. Stand up to bullies and ignore inflammatory, baseless comments that serve no real purpose.
Feedback is calmer, clearer and more specific than criticism. It encourages a dialogue on the benefits of change, rather than force change as the be-all and end-all. It allows you to tackle key areas, rather than overgeneralize your mishaps and exaggerate your shortcomings.
Separate the content of the feedback from how it’s given. Providing an honest opinion is often uncomfortable. Not everyone is trained, skilled or experienced in giving feedback. And their approach to delivering feedback is usually the way they like to receive it, which might not match your preference. Assume people giving feedback have good intentions and thank them for making time to provide it.
Feedback that is carefully packaged and overly positive doesn’t do much besides feed your ego and tell you what you generally already know. Meanwhile, feedback that is delivered poorly can offer valuable truth and unique insights, even when it seems harsh and unduly negative. Be grateful for comments that help you break through to the next level, regardless of whether they feel good in the moment.
Don’t allow negative feedback to keep you stuck. The ability to receive and process feedback leads to greater self-awareness that boosts your performance – not self-consciousness that stops you in your tracks. Use feedback to empower you and steer you toward action, not cripple you and stifle your efforts.
Take negative feedback as an opportunity to build your resilience, increase your endurance, and enhance your self-reflection and understanding of others. The fact that someone gave you feedback means you’re making an impact rather than staying on the sidelines.
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Photo by: Emanuele Toscano