Life clutter: Dealing with negative feedback

Negative feedbackWhatever job you do, be it head hunter or househusband, at some point you will receive negative feedback. Even Mother Theresa got her fair share of bad press and at times I’m sure even she felt like hanging up her habit for good.

Negative feedback can take several forms and may be given to you in writing or verbally. It can even be delivered through body language – half way through one conference presentation I noticed an audience member shaking their head vigorously in disagreement – which was rather disconcerting at the time. In what ever way negative feedback arrives, it is bound to unsettle and effect us and here are some of the ways in which we might respond:

  • Ignore it
  • Get upset and feel depressed
  • Get angry
  • Accept it, learn from it and move on

The key point to remember is that we have a choice of how we perceive negative feedback and also how to deal it. Do we choose to move on from it? Or let it clutter up our thoughts and emotions for days to come? A negative response can be tempting especially if we feel the feedback is unjustified, but before we dismiss the comment or response completely it may be worth pausing for a moment. In what spirit was the feedback delivered? If the comment was genuinely meant to help us or improve performance, then it may be worth listening to. To ignore it completely, could mean we are missing out on a valuable opportunity to improve performance.

Getting upset and angry also does us no favours. When our emotions overwhelm us, then its hard to think rationally about what the feedback really means for us. It’s a good idea to try and put yourself in the other persons shoes and think about what may have prompted the feedback. Accept that not everyone is great at giving feedback and it may have sounded much worse than the person originally attended.

Also think about why such feedback has provoked such an extreme reaction. Are you being oversensitive or taking it too personally? Do you secretly know that the feedback is justified and don’t want to admit it to yourself? Or is the feedback symptomatic of poor relations between you and the giver. How could you improve the relationship so such feedback doesn’t happen again?

The best piece of advice I received was to treat negative feedback as a gift. My initial reaction to this was – no way! Why would I see negative comments as something to welcome, especially as I was so perfect at my job….? But when I thought about it a bit more, I could actually see the sense in this approach. It was better that these comments were out in the open, so I could deal with them and respond to them. This had to be better than somebody seething with annoyance behind my back and potentially complaining about me to lots of other people. Also I now had an opportunity to address any weaknesses, or at least address why the person was dissatisfied with my actions or approach.

Although I liked to think I was perfect at my job, I had to acknowledge there were always areas where I could improve and that I had probably become ‘blind’ to my weak spots. Negative feedback was like someone shining a flashlight on my performance and showing up the cobwebs I had missed. This had to be a good thing.

So instead of getting angry the next time negative feedback strikes,  trying thanking the giver for their gift. Think of it less as a ‘white elephant’ and more of an heirloom. It is your chance to make things better.


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