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Performance

4 Tips For Responding To Negative Feedback In A Constructive Way

5 October 2022

8 min read

Lynette Teo
Lynette Teo

Did you receive negative feedback about your performance from your supervisor recently? It’s not a great feeling, we totally understand.

It’s not easy to process for sure, as it’s natural to feel defensive, angry and self-conscious about yourself when you’re on the receiving end.

But this will only impair your effectiveness at your job in the long run. And it only means you’ll miss the point of the negative feedback in the first place.

After all, negative feedback is a valuable resource, as it alerts you to any critical changes you need to make when it comes to your work performance.

All it takes is for you to learn how to take negative feedback with an open and calm mind. If you can do that, you can use it to your advantage and obtain valuable insights on how to improve your performance, without damaging your self-confidence.

To help you do that, we’ve got four tips to help you receive negative feedback in a calm and productive state of mind.

1. Don’t Become Defensive, Discouraged Or Withdrawn

The first and most important thing is to keep any emotional reactions you might have to any negative feedback you received in check. After all, it’s professional, not personal.

Of course, we know it’s natural to feel that you’re being attacked, and try to defend yourself accordingly. However, this would give the impression that you’re not taking the feedback seriously, and can only be detrimental to your professional work life in the long run.

On the flipside, don’t let the negative feedback discourage you either. It’s easy to forget the strengths you do bring to the table when you’ve received negative feedback from your supervisor, but this would only impact your performance negatively.

Therefore, it’s important to get ahead of any self-defeating thoughts that the negative feedback that crossed your mind, and nip them in the bud before they can affect you.

Last but not least, you might be tempted to see the negative feedback as a sign everyone in the workplace is against you, and shut yourself off from your colleagues to protect yourself.

That too is a mistake, because it’s just another way to shut yourself off from the insights that such feedback is intended to give you. Instead, keep engaging with your colleagues, and encourage them to keep giving you honest feedback on your work.

With the right approach, your supervisor and colleagues will see that you’re taking their feedback seriously. And when they notice that it’s led to an improvement in your performance, this can turn your biggest critics in the workplace to your greatest allies.

Above all, take a growth mindset towards negative feedback; it’s key to looking past any emotional reactions and receiving it with an objective, constructive outlook.

2. Don’t Rush To React To Negative Feedback

Another reaction you’re likely to have towards receiving negative feedback, is a sense of urgency to resolve this ‘problem’ as quickly as possible.

However, that can also cause you to miss the key point of the feedback in the first place. And your efforts to address it could end up as wasted effort.

Instead, think about stepping back and making sure you fully understand the point of the negative feedback in the first place. Clarify with your supervisor, or whoever is giving you the feedback, what you really need to work on.

Don’t pressure yourself to push past your emotional reactions and respond immediately to negative feedback.

Instead, take a leaf from people who are highly self-aware, according to the Harvard Business Review; they give themselves days, even weeks, to bounce back from negative feedback given to them, before they decide what to do about it.

How do they do it? There are a couple of techniques you can use.

One of them is cognitive reappraisal, or actively working to change the way you see the negative feedback, to see it objectively as useful data on your own performance.

A tool to help you do this is affect labeling; verbalizing what you’re feeling about the feedback. 

For example, saying to yourself “I feel blindsided and a little scared about the criticism”. This can help you acknowledge your emotions, and make it easier to move past them so you can get to the work of interpreting the criticism constructively.

Another useful technique is self-affirmation; take a few minutes to remind yourself of another aspect of your self-identity that’s important to you, other than the one that’s being threatened by the negative feedback.

For example, recall the moments when others have made positive comments about you as a person; whether you’ve been a supportive friend, a devoted partner to your spouse, or a loving parent to your children.

This can mitigate any physical threat responses you might have towards the negative feedback, which helps you keep a more open and objective mind towards receiving it.

3. Get More Data From Multiple Sources

We mentioned the importance of clarifying any feedback you received from the person giving it to you. That’s because it can be particularly disorienting to learn that others look at you in a way that doesn’t square with your self-image.

If someone pointed out a particular shortcoming in your work, you can clarify if that’s the case by asking a few trustworthy sources whether they’ve noticed the same thing about yourself.

With multiple channels of feedback, you’ll get more details about what you’ve been doing to create a certain impression of yourself to others. It also helps you avoid any tendency to overcorrect, especially based on a single person’s (possibly biased) opinion.

You don’t need to get clarifying feedback from too many people, either. Highly self-aware people keep their feedback circle surprisingly small, made up only of “loving critics” whom they trust to be brutally honest with them.

If you can cultivate such a feedback circle for yourself, ask open-ended clarifying questions about the improvements you really need to make. 

Summarizing what they say about you helps you build your plan to improve upon your shortcomings from the initial negative feedback, as it helps you identify the areas of concern that you need to work on.

And as you begin working on your shortcomings, keep going back to your supervisor and your feedback circle to get their perspective on your progress. This is a great way to build trust and rapport, and get them on your side.

4. Execute A Plan To Improve

Speaking of building an improvement plan based on the negative feedback you’ve received, this is a great way to avoid falling back into bad habits, and remain accountable to yourself.

After you’ve taken the negative feedback you’ve received into consideration, create an improvement plan and execute on it. This will show your supervisor that you’ve not only processed their criticism, but are also eager to use it to improve yourself.

One thing to note is that working on your shortcomings is one thing; changing other peoples’ perceptions of said shortcomings is another. It can even be harder to change the initial impressions you’ve made on others, than working on the shortcoming that created that impression in the first place.

This can result in you working on overcoming your shortcomings based on negative feedback, only for others not to notice the work you’ve put in. That can be discouraging, and you might be tempted to consider your effort futile.

Don’t do that. Instead, you should show the people around you how serious you are about changing; do this by choosing a “harbinger” – a highly visible and symbolic action that will demonstrate your resolve – and then carry it out.

Maintaining Your Perspective Is Key To Reacting Positively To Negative Feedback

Negative feedback is a valuable resource that gives you actionable insights on how you can improve upon your work, if you can receive it with an objective mindset.

That’s easier said than done, however, and it’s perfectly natural. You just need to practice the right techniques for maintaining a mindful perspective, one that’s conducive to taking negative feedback you’ve received constructively.

Avoid falling into the trap of becoming defensive, discouraged, or withdrawn from those who’d give you negative feedback. Giving free rein to your negative emotions generated from this feedback will only hinder you from taking it for the valuable resource it is.

But don’t rush to try and address the shortcomings highlighted in the negative feedback either. Instead, take the time you need to process your emotions, so you can begin to work on your shortcomings with an objective mindset.

Get more opinions from the people around you to corroborate the negative feedback you’ve received, and communicate with your supervisor if there’s any aspect of the feedback you wish to clarify or dispute.

Lastly, create a plan to address the shortcomings highlighted in the feedback you received, and execute it in a way that everyone can see how serious you are about improving yourself.

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