How to handle negative feedback at work | Women's Agenda

How to handle negative feedback at work

I have a very good working relationship with my boss and frequently receive positive feedback. Recently I received some negative feedback from him, which was warranted, but it was difficult to hear. The conversation ended well but it has rattled me. What are some strategies for taking negative feedback on board without getting too down about it?
Fiona, Lawyer

It is rare to find a person who can take ‘constructive criticism’ on the chin and not let it get to them, and I have found that women can be particularly sensitive to receiving it. However research tells us that people who are better at receiving negative feedback are likely to be more successful, so it is a skill that is worth developing.

We have all met those people who think they were spun from cotton candy and that nothing they do could ever be called into question. They are above reproach. They are also generally complete narcissists and impossible to work with. That is one end of the spectrum. The other end is the person who constantly asks for feedback because they need to be validated to boost their self-esteem. Of course, only positive feedback is required here.

We are aiming for a different approach. One that has you standing firmly in your power, steeped in self confidence, where you know that well meaning criticism from someone who is invested in your success, is one of the keys to your development and you welcome it for your personal and professional growth.

So how do you get there? Here are some strategies that may help you:

Analyse: You mentioned that your boss’s feedback in this case was correct and that you agreed with it, which is helpful and the points below will address your question about not taking it so hard. However I did want to make the point up front that just because someone gives you negative feedback, doesn’t mean you have to take that on. There is a difference between being defensive about getting it, and actually agreeing with it. You don’t have to own every piece of negative commentary that comes your way. Once you have mastered the steps below, it will become easier to integrate those pieces that are helpful and well meaning, and those that are not. You know intuitively which is which, and you need to pay attention to that.

Start with a reframe: How are you currently viewing any constructive feedback? If you take it as an attack on your personal character, you can’t help but be offended and feel like you have been insulted. However if you can take it in as one data point to integrate into all of the positive things he has already told you, and view it as something that can help your overall performance at work, then it moves from being a personal affront to a professional growth point. Try and start viewing any input like this as information to help you grow.

Focus on the facts: Sometimes the nuggets of gold in feedback get lost in the emotion of either the delivery or receipt – or both. By focusing on the facts of the feedback, you can better integrate it into your future performance. Did you need to do a better job on a report? Get specifics around what sections weren’t up to par. Did you falter in a presentation to the executive team? Get details of where you stumbled and work out what the core issue was. Did you lose confidence in a meeting because you didn’t have all the facts you needed? Determine why and how you could do better next time. Getting clarity and specificity around the feedback is essential for you to move forward constructively. Make sure you get the facts.

Take what’s useful and move on: Sometimes we hear the fact that is worth gold for our career, and if we just took that and moved on, we would be fine. But we don’t. We hear the fact, and then overlay that with our interpretation of what else could be going on, what else could happen, what else the boss really thinks of you, and layer it with fear and catastrophe until we have put ourselves mentally out of a job. Stop ruminating. It is unhelpful and sends you on a mental and emotional downward spiral that can short circuit your success. Take your thoughts back to your positive performance, the positive feedback you have had, and the actions you can take to address the criticism.

Take action: Get moving on the facts of the feedback that you want to do something about. If there is a change you want to make, make a plan. As we know with change, the more specific you can be about the steps involved and the timeline and measurement goals, the greater likelihood for success. You don’t want to say, “I need to be better at my job”, but you might say, “I need to give a better presentation to the Board”. Work out the steps you need to do that, by when and whom you need help from. Then take that action. This will help you integrate the feedback, build your confidence, and improve your performance outcomes.

And remember you can always go back to your boss once you have implemented steps to address his feedback, to ensure you are on the right track.

You can assume your boss had good intentions giving you this feedback. He is invested in your career and your growth, and is telling you this to help you, so try and be grateful for it. And stand in your power here. You have received the feedback, which may not have been your choice, but what you decide to do about it is absolutely in your control.

Not many people like hearing negative feedback about themselves, but by incorporating these suggestions you can help ensure that you get less rattled, and that you can mine for the gold that can help your professional and personal success in the future.

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