Let’s be honest, nobody likes getting negative feedback. Whether it comes from your boss, your best friend, or a total stranger, hearing something negative about yourself isn’t easy. I think what’s more important than the actual criticism is how you handle it. Most of us respond with our first instinct, which is typically going on the defense. For some of us that comes out as anger, for others it’s sarcasm, while some just shut down. No matter your first emotional reaction, there are ways to handle negative feedback elegantly. Here’s how:
1. Take note of your initial reaction.
Before you do or say anything, look internally and take note of how you are feeling. Is this criticism making you upset? Are you feeling less confident? Do you want to punch the person in the face? All are totally normal — just be aware of what you are feeling and allow yourself to feel it (without taking any action).
2. Ask yourself why you feel that way.
Once you’ve let yourself experience your emotions for a bit, ask yourself why you are feeling that way. For example, say your boss told you that you should have spoken up in a meeting. If this feedback got an emotional reaction out of you, it’s probably because you may already be self-conscious about your abilities at work or about voicing your opinions. Understanding why you are feeling the way you are can help you work through your emotions so that you can deal with the real issue — your personal insecurities, not the situation at hand.
3. Differentiate between the emotions and the feedback.
Using the same example, try to differentiate between the self-conscious emotions you are feeling and what your boss was actually saying. The reason you may react emotionally to your boss’s comment is because you are hearing “you are bad at your job” or “you don’t have any opinions”. But in reality, all your boss said is that you need to speak up. That’s it. Your boss was not saying anything more than that. You just interpreted it that way because you are already feeling self-conscious about that one thing.
4. Wait until your emotions pass.
Now that you understand why you were feeling what you were feeling, your emotions are likely to pass. Give yourself some time and focus on something else until you notice that those initial negative feelings have faded away. This could take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to a few days, depending on how much the negative feedback affected you. But that’s okay. Just let it pass — it always does!
5. Kill ’em with kindness.
If you are required to respond to this negative feedback — whether in email form or in person — look to that mantra you’ve heard many times before: kill ’em with kindness. Thank the person for their feedback, tell them that you’ll work on it, and even ask for advice on how to improve. If you’ve truly let your emotions pass and feel your confidence has come back, it’ll be much easier to say these things genuinely and to actually want & accept the help to improve.
6. If you need to react immediately…
If you’re receiving negative feedback in person and need to respond immediately, here’s what you do. Take a deep breath and pur your emotions to the side for a moment. Tell yourself you will deal with those emotions and work through them later when you are alone and have the time, but for now, literally picture yourself moving them to the side. Put your strong, confident face on, even if you need to pretend, and respond minimally. If you can get away with saying nothing at all, then do that, otherwise, go back to my “kill em’ with kindness” philosophy, knowing that you don’t need to believe what you’re saying right now, but that you will deal with these emotions and work through them at a later time. And make sure you actually do take the time to work through them!
What do you do when you’re given negative feedback?