How to receive and act on negative feedback in a positive way

We all need people who will give us feedback – that’s how we improve – Bill Gates

Whether you are an employer or an employee you are bound to receive negative feedback at some point in your career. No one enjoys receiving negative feedback and it often activates our stress response – the ‘fight or flight’ response.  Unfortunately, for all involved, it is most often the ‘fight response’ that is activated.  Our brains respond to negative feedback as a threat to status and our default response is often to do one of these things:

  • Get angry
  • Deny the problem or issue
  • Blame someone else

None of these responses is helpful in resolving the problem – even if you don’t think there is one.

It is important to recognise that feedback is important for our development.  More importantly, how we respond to it impacts on our relationship with the person giving the feedback, whether client or employer. Responding in one of the ways listed above is not helpful and may potentially damage the relationship.

In a perfect world, negative feedback will be given calmly and constructively.  But oftentimes, it is given when the person giving it is angry, upset or rushed.  This makes it even more important to respond appropriately.

If you receive negative feedback, check you emotions.  If you feel yourself about to respond angrily or defensively, pause, and take a deep breath before responding.  If the person giving you feedback is angry, let them finish – they need to say what they need to say, even if you don’t appreciate hearing it.  Listen to what they are saying because what they are telling you, no matter how badly expressed, is important information.

Ask for clarification if you need it. If it is general feedback, ask for some examples to help you work on improvement.

Make suggestions yourself in how improvements can be made.  Don’t wait to be told what to do – you are more likely to follow through if you come up with suggestions for change yourself.

And don’t afraid to ask for feedback to make sure you are on track – check in with your supervisor to see how are going.  Feedback is character building!