What To Do When You Receive Negative Feedback

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

We’ve all been there. We’ve received feedback that seems unfair, inaccurate, confusing or disparaging. No wonder there is sometimes fear around the end of year review process.

Over several years, I’ve worked on delivering and designing workshops on how to deliver feedback, but we don’t often talk enough about how to receive it, especially when it is negative. I've inadvertently delivered it, and I’ve experienced what feels like unfair feedback, and now I coach clients on how to respond to or stay engaged when they receive feedback that doesn't seem correct or is hard to hear.

I’ve learned a few lessons along the way and want to share them here:

Feedback isn’t just about you. It’s about the lens and perspective of the person delivering feedback to you. What has motivated this feedback at this time? How much visibility does this person have in your work? How does the feedback fit into the organizational direction? What’s a helpful takeaway?

Don’t expect the reviewer to see and know everything you do. Your reviewer likely has a lot of tasks on their plate too. How do you make your contributions and work more easily seen?

Consider how your emotions impact your thoughts and actions. It’s common to feel hurt when the feedback we receive is not aligned with how we see ourselves, our contributions and our values. How does your emotional reaction help you? If you looked at the feedback from a lens of curiosity, how does that impact your thoughts? How do you want to feel?

Look at the whole of the feedback. It’s easy to focus on the negative feedback and dismiss all of the positive feedback you received. If you re-read it and focused on the positive, how does that change your perspective?

Know how you want to respond and the outcome you want to see. Sometimes I have clients who are frustrated at the feedback they received and want to set up a conversation with their manager to discuss. The first question I ask, is what do you want from your manager? Are you looking for them to acknowledge that they were wrong? How will you respond if they still stand behind their feedback? What outcome do you want to see in response to the conversation? Do you want a better understanding of expectations? Are you looking for a change in your compensation, flexibility or work? It can be helpful to identify the outcome you want to see.

Choose the perspective that serves you. You may have an amazing relationship with your boss or a contentious one. Regardless of the relationship, you may not be able to make any immediate changes to your circumstance. Recognizing this, consider how you want to feel at work and what thoughts might help you experience that feeling? What actions can you take to feel the way you want at work today?

Let's Talk. To prepare those responsible for delivering feedback, consider the types of training, coaching and resources you provide to them. Feedback is a conversation that, if done well, can build a relationship. If done poorly, it can injure a relationship. Check below for information on my micro sessions and workshops on feedback.

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