Negative feedback is criticism you receive when things did not go well. At one point or another, we all find ourselves at the receiving end of negative feedback. Be it a school activity or an internship report. Or perhaps even a multinational merger.
Negative feedback is part of our lives. It is how we grow and develop. By all means, it is how we learn. Yet, it’s always difficult to accept. And things hardly get any better. Receiving negative feedback is tough at all levels. You certainly feel much better receiving compliments. But human interactions open us to plenty of negative feedback.
So, here’s how to do better with receiving negative feedback. We’ll start with exploring how it makes us anxious. And then we will continue with the 2 stages of dismantling negative feedback.
Why negative feedback makes us anxious
Some define feedback as information about actions returned to the source of actions. In truth, it is a misappropriated term from electronics and biology. Elsewhere, negative feedback is a special flavor of constructive criticism. One in which the giver has a complaint.
Negative feedback happens when the information about actions is mostly unpleasant. It is what we receive when our actions did not reach the desired outcome. Or when our actions received the desired outcome in an undesired way. The main idea is that we receive negative feedback when something did not go well. And typically, it feels unpleasant because we care.
After all, we have a bad history with feedback. In fact, most of us associate negative feedback with bad things. Since early childhood we learn to receive feedback with anxiety. And it affects our performance.
Human learning and developing gravitates around some form of feedback. In school, grades and report cards are a cold and silent feedback. Even at home we seldom experience proper feedback. Most of the time, however, it is negative feedback.
This continues later in life, at work or in internships. There are many places in which the standard practice is to only offer negative feedback. And quite poorly. Few people know how to offer feedback of any kind. Especially negative feedback. “We only give you feedback if you do something wrong. If you do something right, or even exceptionally well, that’s expected. Hence, no feedback.”
Ironically, merely believing that you are doing well will boost your performance. Giving proper feedback ensures that actual self-efficacy is not lost.
Since we can’t change the world, let’s start with changing ourselves. Knowing how to receive negative feedback will tip the scale in our favor. It is the key ingredient to our growth and self-improvement.
Stage 1 – Be open
Your feedback is in your inbox. Or soon to be delivered, verbally. You are waiting in a cozy office chair. Espresso shot in your lap. Feeling like no amount of crema can help unwind you. Already you are preparing your brain for some self-esteem scaring.
Instead, go beyond fight-or-flight. Despite being hardwired, your fight-or-flight response to negative feedback can be escaped. How? Simply take a step back. Relax. Don’t open that email yet. Or ask for 30 seconds to enjoy that espresso. Take some time to change your mindset.
Now let it happen. And listen with an empty mind. Don’t try to preemptively answer to all of it in your head. Most of us do this. We learned that we need to show we listen. Meanwhile, we’re mostly preparing answers and speeches in our head. Understand that you are not on trail.
Your role in receiving negative feedback is to understand what the next step is. What it is, exactly, that you need to do next. What your interlocutor is interested in, really. It can’t be to simply bash at you in frustration. Raw, uneducated frustration is silly and out-of-place amongst professionals. There must be something that you need to understand. So focus on that.
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You are receiving feedback from a partner, not a tormentor. This partner may communicate in an unpleasant manner. They may be furious or frustrated. Or they may be as cold and succinct as report cards. Either way, they are just about as distraught as you are. Hence, what helps both of you move on is acceptance.
Before assessing if the negative feedback is true, try and understand it. Accept that a communication must take place. It will be unpleasant. You will do better next time. How? Just make a mental note of what to improve on.
Stage 2 – Get active
Before reacting to negative feedback by being defensive, take a moment. You already have a long list of items you could improve on. It could be how well you meet deadlines. Or how often you are late for work. It could be anything, really. You have that list now, and you are ready to act on it and do better.
But now it’s time to evaluate how accurate the feedback really is. After all, you might be in the right. It’s not uncommon for negative feedback to be misdirected. After all, there are two common reaction to negative feedback. One is being too defensive, and learning nothing. We already covered that in stage one. The other common reaction is to be too accepting and too apologetic. So much so that you would readily share the blame for basically anything thrown at you. Just as long as you don’t have to stand up for yourself. Conflict-averse people do this a lot.
And while calmly accepting negative feedback is best, just check if it is fair and true. There are many errors that could explain negative feedback. From material errors to logic or policy errors. Either way, try and see how the feedback fits to your situation.
Most feedback you should not respond to. In fact, the best about feedback is that you should just receive it and use it as you will. With negative feedback, however, you might have some explaining to do.
In doing so, no matter how right or wrong you are, use a mindful routine:
- Be considerate and friendly
- Start with what you agree on
- Offer your solution or personal plan.
- Then move on to what you disagree with.
- Explain your point of view.
- Offer your solution and move on.
Ultimately, it’s all about teamwork. How we learn and react to unpleasant situations defines our later development. Most of our early development is, in a sense, feedback-driven. It can be a cause for anxiety and feeling stressed out.
Learning how to accept feedback is a matter of practice. And it starts with self-control and the ability to focus on the right mindsets. In doing so, you positively impact your team and improve upon all work relations.