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How to Handle Negative Feedback at Work

by | Dec 10, 2023

There’s no two ways about it; negative feedback can be tough to swallow at times. But if you can develop resilience in the face of negative feedback, it can be the key to personal and professional growth. Reading this blog and taking the next step of pursuing executive coaching at Holistic Wellness Practice can help you improve your skills at receiving—and making use of—negative feedback.

Developing Inner Resilience and Openness to Feedback

When you’ve shown up with your best at work, receiving negative feedback can completely derail your efforts. You may feel misunderstood or misrepresented, and want to jump right to defending yourself and the work you’ve done. Defensiveness, however, can keep you from seeing the whole picture in terms of the feedback you receive.

Strengthening your response to negative feedback takes time and practice, but will be an important step in your professional growth. As you develop the capacity to hear negative feedback without immediately becoming defensive, you’ll be surprised at what listening carefully and asking insightful questions can help you accomplish.

5 Tips to Handle Negative Feedback in the Moment

When you receive a negative review, it can feel like everything about what you do is being blasted. Taking a step back from that initial shock allows you to pause and give yourself some space from an immediate stress response. We’ve compiled five tips below that can help you move from a defensive reaction to a resilient response indicative of the type of leader you are. 

  1. Use somatic strategies to find your calm

Responding to negative feedback in the moment and moderating your immediate reaction is supported by regularly practicing nervous system regulation techniques like deep breathing or mindfulness meditation. When you regularly bring your body into a state of calm, and have practiced ways to return to that calm when stressed, it can become easier to accept negative feedback without losing your cool. 

  1. Observe your response rather than acting on it

It can be tempting to defend yourself in the face of negative feedback, and of course advocating for yourself if you’re being maligned at work is important. But when you’re simply receiving feedback that isn’t glowing, the urge to defend yourself can be strong. But defensiveness rarely changes minds, and never offers you space to grow. Taking a step back from your reaction, and observing your desire to defend yourself, letting it pass by noticed but not acted upon, is a healthy way to acknowledge your temporary feelings without allowing them to take over and drive your interactions.

  1. Actively look for helpful insights

It can be tempting to allow the discomfort of negative feedback take over your ability to assess it as a whole. Negativity can feed into itself in your head, eventually blocking out the positive insights hidden there as well. Counteracting negativity is an active exercise; look toward realism instead. Recognize that there are both missteps in your work, and successes. See that you have room to improve in some arenas, and that you excel in others. Know that your boss or manager approaching you with something to improve means that they believe you are teachable and capable of more. Actively look for the whole picture, even when digesting negative feedback.

  1. Hear them out

A lot of time, when someone is speaking negatively, or from anger, it can come from a space of needing to be heard. You can turn around an interaction that begins from a place of upset, into one of mutual understanding, by asking to hear more. You can reflect what you’ve heard from them back to them, in a non-defensive statement, like “So what I’m hearing you say is…”

If you can hear someone out, they will often feel more comfortable with you, even when struggling with a perceived shortcoming. They’ll often open up more, providing more information, and also offering ways the issues can be fixed. Developing a rapport with people who have provided negative feedback opens up a door of opportunity; you may salvage a future sale, gain respect from a colleague, or receive an opportunity to improve skills and working relationships. 

  1. Channel your growth mindset

Work is a process, not an event. Being in process means trying things out, shifting priorities, hearing others’ feedback, and making changes. If you can shift yourself into a mindset that is open to change instead of a perfectionism-driven strive toward perpetual, impossible accomplishment, you’ll allow yourself room to grow and learn. A growth mindset—one where you recognize that accomplishment happens because of effort and improvement, not because of innate talent or ability—sets you on a path to acceptance of all feedback. Feedback is, after all, just a part of the process, and that feedback may be the exact thing you need to level up into the type of leader you want to be. 

What to do After Receiving Negative Feedback at Work

Whether your reviewer is speaking from a place of sincere perception, misunderstanding, or anger, asking thoughtful questions can help you get the most out of any negative feedback you receive. It’s often easier said than done, so here are some steps you can take to help negative feedback feel a little less harsh:

  1. Be honest with yourself

Ask yourself some honest questions when you’ve received negative feedback about your work process, or your work itself. Does the feedback provide you with ways to improve things? Does it show you things you hadn’t noticed, but are likely accurate? Better understanding our shortcomings with feedback from others can be a powerful way to understand ourselves, if we are brave enough to be honest. 

You’re good at developing skills; you wouldn’t be where you were without that ability. If you approach negative feedback as a starting place, a place to find the skills you need to continue developing, you can simply treat negative feedback as a source of information for professional development. 

  1. Get some perspective

Gaining a wider perspective on the feedback you receive can be a helpful way for you to filter out components that aren’t useful, and to allow you to understand why you’re hearing what you’re hearing. Sometimes you’re receiving feedback from someone who is angry, or stressed, and isn’t moderating how they speak to you. Depending on the situation, this can be relatable! We’ve all spoken out of frustration, and knowing that can help you to take the harshness of the feedback with a grain of salt. 

It can be useful, as well, to get honest feedback from people you trust. Run the negative feedback you received by them, and see what their thoughts are. They can provide you with perspective, helping you find the kernels of truth in the feedback, and encouraging you to look at the potential for growth and improvement that comes with any negative feedback. If you’re lacking in people like that in your life, consider an executive coach; a neutral third party that only wants you to grow as a professional can be a helpful sounding board for understanding what you can gain from negative feedback. 

  1. Follow up

If you’re provided with negative feedback that includes something you can change, follow up with the person that provided the feedback (if appropriate). Ask them for more information before you make changes, to get a better idea of what their reasoning was when developing their feedback. Consider asking, after you make changes, for feedback about the process. It can feel a bit prickly to ask for follow up feedback after you’ve received a negative review, but it shows honest effort on your part, and indicates you aren’t one to hold grudges or avoid taking hard news head-on. It shows leadership, in other words. 

Consider Executive Coaching to Develop Your Skills

Developing skills to manage your feelings about negative feedback is just the start of what’s available to you when you commit to professional growth through executive coaching. You can learn to gain information from every kind of feedback to be the best version of your professional self possible, all while maximizing your potential and gaining more clarity around your work. 

We want to ensure you feel supported in all you aspire to, and that you always know you  have a guide in such a substantial undertaking. Our executive coaches can be just the person for that work. Consider getting in touch with an executive coach at Holistic Wellness Practice today, to get started on developing your resilience and ability to use negative feedback to your advantage. 

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About Gleyce | View Profile

Gleyce Almeida-Farrell is a psychotherapist and the founder of Holistic Wellness Practice in Alpharetta, GA. She specializes in helping adults manage stress and overcome symptoms of anxiety utilizing a holistic and integrative approach to mental wellness.

We offer in-person and virtual services – contact us today to learn more!

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