Note: This is a guest post from Celestine Chua of The Personal Excellence Blog
Have you ever received negative feedback before? Say, a friend or family member complaining about you. A boss or colleague critiquing your work. A partner or a spouse unhappy with something you did.
I run The Personal Excellence Blog which has a readership of about 3,000 readers a day. Every day, I receive feedback about the articles I write. While most of them are positive, there is the occasional negative feedback every now and then.
Admittedly, negative feedback can be tough to deal with sometimes. It’s much more encouraging to be receiving compliments than disagreements, because the former positively affirms that we’re on the right track, while the latter suggests we are doing something wrong. After years of dealing with feedback whether in school, work, or now running my own blog and business, I’ve become accustomed to getting negative feedback, but even then there’s the occasional feedback every now and then that would sting.
Yet, unless we are living in a holed up world where we don’t have to interact with anyone, receiving negative feedback is part and parcel of our everyday life. People will always have different opinions, and they are entitled to hold their opinions and say what they want to say. The question then isn’t on how we can avoid negative feedback, but to learn to roll and deal with them. If you can learn to handle negative feedback effectively, it will be a crucial skill that will help us in our journey of growth.
Here are my personal 6 steps on how to deal with such feedback.
1. Pause first; Don’t react.
When receiving negative feedback, it’s natural to want to defend yourself immediately. Has there been a time when you received a negative criticism, and your first instinct is to say: “No, this isn’t true..” “You’re wrong..” “No, that’s because…“?
However, no matter how negative the comment was, you have a choice in your reaction. Reacting defensively tells more about you as a person than about the comment itself. Remaining calm and composed helps you deal with the feedback better. If you feel riled up, give yourself some time to cool down first before engaging further.
Whenever I get a negative feedback, I rarely ever respond immediately. If it’s a real-time conversation, I would always pause for a few seconds to process the feedback in my mind. If it’s a delayed communication, such as over email or a comment at my blog, I’ll leave it there for a couple of days while I let it sit in my mind. I found that when I read the same piece of feedback at different times, it conjures up different thoughts and emotions. Hence, referring back to the feedback at different times and aggregating the feelings help me to put things into context. Sometimes we may interpret a comment in a wrong manner and looking it at another time helps us to consider from a different perspective.
2. Understand what the person’s concerns are
Every feedback, whether negative or positive, comes from somewhere. Something you said or did made the person react this way. You can choose to ignore the feedback, but then you’ll never know what was it that triggered the person. This means there’s a possibility of this issue recurring in the future.
Use active listening and understand where he/she is coming from. Some questions to ask yourself include:
- What is he/she concerned about? What are the key issues?
- Why is he/she reacting this way?
- What did you do/say that triggered him/her?
Write down these answers so you can evaluate them in step 3.
Sometimes, the person giving the feedback may not be aware of the real areas of concern. He/she might just be saying ‘I don’t think this is done well’ or ‘I don’t like how you are doing this’, without supporting reasons. This doesn’t mean you should dismiss the feedback, because something did trigger it. It’s up to you to probe the person and discover what the actual reasons are.
I found a tip that really helps in understanding his/her concerns is to put yourself in the person’s shoes. Imagine you as the person and think about how he/she felt. This will make it easier to understand why he/she commented that way. Whenever I do that, it instantly becomes clear why the person said the things he/she said, and helped me to understand his/her concerns.
3. Assess if the feedback is true.
Evaluate the feedback objectively. Do you agree on the feedback? Is there any truth behind it, and would this be an alternate perspective you missed out originally? Is it something you should look into?
Sometimes it’s hard to maintain an objective stance, especially since you are right in the middle of this. I found it’s helpful to seek out friends to get alternate opinions. You can ask them: (a) Their overall assessment of the feedback (b) What they think are the areas of concern (c) If they saw any truth behind it. As your friends, they will be more than willing to listen and help evaluate. Besides, each of them will have his/her own unique perspective to add to the plate.
Often times when I get negative feedback, I would talk it over with some of my good friends and process the feedback with them. We would objectively discuss and evaluate the things that could be work on. It becomes kind of like a mini-troubleshooting discussion, and it can be very enlightening. Having these alternative viewpoints helped to maintain the objectivity.
4. Reply to the person in kindness
Since the person took time to share his/her feedback with you, you should take time out to give a proper reply. Generally, I use the following flow for my replies:
- Reiterate his/her concerns, and confirm this with him/her so both of you are on the same page
- Let him/her know your point of view, whether you agree/disagree, along with supporting reasons why
- Create a open space for discussion
- Align/agree on the conclusions/next steps to move forward. Sometimes it’s possible that there can’t be an agreement met, and if that’s the case it’s about agreeing to disagree
- Thank him/her for sharing.
5. Recognize receiving negative feedback is a positive thing
Ultimately, I see negative feedback as positive, because it shows there are people who want you to become better. As in Randy Pausch said in the The Last Lecture, critics “are the ones telling you they still love you and care”. If the person didn’t care at all, he/she wouldn’t even have provided the feedback, would he/she?
Negative feedback also tells us our opportunities for growth. No matter where we are in life, all of us will have blind spots we don’t know about. These blind spots prevent us from reaching the next stage of growth. While negative feedback may not be pleasant to receive, they give us a different perspective to consider. By learning from more different perspectives, we can grow much faster.
If I look back, the times when I learned and grew the most were when I received negative feedback, not when I received positive feedback. How would things be if everyone around you simply praised and complimented you all the time? It would be nice at the beginning, but after a while you become oblivious on how you can improve. This doesn’t mean positive feedback doesn’t play a role – it helps to encourage and inspire us. Negative feedback has its own role to play too. It is when I receive criticisms about my work that I become more aware of things I was blind to before and how I can better improve next time. Especially when the negative feedback triggers some sort of emotional response, I know that means it has struck some chord inside me, and I would look inside to understand what’s making me feel that way. Often times that helps to trigger a new breakthrough in my personal growth, which I then proceed to share with my readers on my blog, which benefits many more people.
6. Learn from the feedback.
There’s always something to learn from every feedback. Ask yourself:
- What have I learned about myself?
- What have I learned about others?
- How can I improve? What can I do differently from now on?
Your learning can either be about (i) the feedback (ii) how you dealt with the feedback (iii) or both. Whenever I get a negative feedback, I would process it and think about what I can learn from. I could ignore it, but then that means nothing came out of the experience. So far, I have learned new from almost every negative feedback I have received. Add this up over time, and that’s a lot of new things I have learned. No doubt, these have been critical in my personal journey of growth.
I hope my personal tips and learnings will be helpful to you in dealing with negative feedback. It may not be easy to handle negative feedback – but if you learn the art of dealing with it, it’ll go a long way in personal growth.
Celes writes at The Personal Excellence Blog, where she shares her best advice on how to achieve personal excellence. Get her RSS feed directly here. If you liked this, you might like her related article on 8 Helpful Ways To Deal With Critical People.
Photo by Sudhamshu
Hi Donald, thanks so much for this guest post opportunity 😀 It was great writing this article and I hope Life Optimizer readers found this article beneficial in handling feedback of any sort. 🙂
Seriously, this is the biggest bunch of horse crap I’ve ever read. What planet are you from?
I’M KIDDING!! Thanks so much. While most of this may SEEM to be common sense, just how COMMON is our ability to digest and follow common sense?
My biggest “areas for improvement” are with #1 and #4. I appreciate this reminder overall!
Thanks Steve, glad you found this useful 😀
It’s my pleasure to publish an article from you. Thanks a lot for contributing 🙂
Replying to the person with kindness every time is essential. I struggle with this tip quite a bit and am sometimes overly harsh. Thanks for this. Love your blog Celestine Chua!
Nice post. I also see feedback as positive regardless whether its positive or negative – it’s all an indicator of how well you are doing. Actually, negative feedback is more helpful that positive most of the time because it can help you change for the better – especially when your dealing with a website that has a large audience.
Great tips! With the internet today where anyone and everyone can post an opinion/comment on anything and everything under the sun, you will get positive and negative feedbacks. And as you rise in fame, you’ll get more of both. It’s just that we tend to instinctively reject negative opinions. Admit it, it’s not nice. Especially, some negative opinions can sting and hurt. It’s so easy to fall prey and just defensively argue with that poster. My tip is actually just a summary of all your tips: Keep your cool. Do not take it personally. Do not feed the trolls. And learn from it. Don’t even bother trying to please everyone. Just agree to disagree. Everyone has the right to their own opinion.
I have to say the best sentence I read was: “If I look back, the times when I learned and grew the most were when I received negative feedback, not when I received positive feedback.” It’s so strange because I was looking for encouraging blogs and stumbled across this one. The strange thing is that I had received a negative comment the other day and it was bothering me even up intil now. Thank you so much! It relieved some stress. 🙂
I like this Celestine, you very clearly outline the advantages of viewing criticism advantageously. Much as Dale Carnegie “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” would. BTW my all-time favorite self-help book, I think about 50-60 years in print and maybe 50m copies.
Now if I could only think of something negative about your article…
Also, you don’t have to agree with any specific negative feedback. Yes, you should try to learn from it but also realize that you just can’t please every single person out there. That’s life. You also have to weigh the value of the source of that negative feedback. For example, if you sell Harley Davidson motorcycles and you get some negative feedback from folks who hate motorcycles, then that feedback is of little value so don’t wory about it.
I think how the negative feedback is delivered is important. If it’s delivered via yelling or making extravagant demands or statements, I am not likely to see it as “caring” nor am I willing to even listen.
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I agree with you Terri. It depends on how it is delievered and whom it is coming from too. More often than not, I will take criticism with a pinch of salt from strangers unless I feel they offered it with sincerity instead of an attack against myself or my work.
Thanks for the post Celes and thanks Donald for bring this to us.
Hey!!!! these are really a great tips for peoples who are into management and feels difficult to handle things..and this will really help them a lot
After many years of problem solving I have learned that giving it time and letting it stew in my mind is very helpful. Usually I will come up with a positive solution to the problem while doing some unrelated task.
You are right on target with this post.
Thanks for writing it,
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How do you respond to a feedback that is meant to harm you or destroy your reputation? How do you know that it is time to fight back?
I have been accused of not being receptive to feedback. Now, I’m confused I felt like there are negative feedback that are tolerable and there are some which are below the belt.
How do i respond to it without affecting my character?
sometime I found the solutions in my dream.when we are old or when we stay with someone more aggresive,we will see ourself of previous.
Thank you! I’ve been dealing with a new boss, and he seems to micro manage and is very negative about things that aren’t negative at all. It’s been very trying, and I found this article to be very helpful. Thank you again.
Thank You! I agreed that the negative feedback enables us to learn our blind spot and improve. But it’s really hard to handle feedback composedly when given in a very negative way. I once had a boss continuously gave me negative feedback all the times; it made me think I was the most useless person in the world.
That would be good if people could give constructive feedback and care about the feeling of others.
Thank you for taking the time to write about this. I belong to a self-help group and last week was a very hard one for me because I received negative feedback about my personality; at the beginning I felt horrible and found it hard to conceive; I wondered is it really that hard to live around someone like me, I felt sad for my husband, baby and co-workers… After some time thinking about it I have learned that the feedback is 80% the opinion of the person who provided it and sadly 20% true. It has been super hard for me to recognize that sometimes my attitudes make people feel uncomfortbale around me. I really appreciate your blog, it made me feel positive again, it is true, I still have much to learn and grow and change about myself.
As the default response often when you’ve received negative feedback is to respond without gauging the concern and the kind of response needed. Once received a response on an element of design on my website. I found it to be quite helpful in modifying it to suit the customer’s needs. Great post.
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