The Right Way to Respond to Negative Feedback

With the right approach, our biggest critics can become our greatest champions.

Feedback, as they say, is a gift. Negative feedback, in particular, can be valuable because it allows us to monitor our performance and alerts us to important changes we need to make.

But processing and acting on negative feedback is not always easy, and there’s comparatively little guidance on how to navigate the hard feedback we receive.

Here are five empirically supported actions to help you hear critical feedback openly and calmly:

Don’t rush to react.

Give yourself time to bounce back from difficult feedback before deciding what to do next. Take this time to actively work to change the way you see the feedback. Start by reframing upsetting information as helpful and productive data – psychologists call this cognitive reappraisal.

Another technique to try is self-affirmation. Taking a few minutes to remind ourselves of another important aspect of our identity, besides the one being threatened, lessens our physical response to threat and helps us be more open to critical feedback.

Get more data.

We can’t act on feedback until we truly understand it. Especially when we hear something new, it’s usually a good idea to ask a few trustworthy sources whether they’ve noticed the same behavior.

Not only does this give us more detail about what we are doing to create a certain impression, it helps us avoid overcorrecting based on one person’s opinion.

 Find a harbinger.

Even when we’ve significantly improved a certain behavior, it doesn’t mean that the people around us will automatically notice. And if we spend energy improving based on feedback from our colleagues, but those same colleagues don’t notice, it can be discouraging.

You should work on the “public relations” aspects of your behavior. Shortly after receiving their feedback report, choose one highly visible and symbolic action that will show how serious you are about changing.

Don’t be a lonely martyr.

Getting critical feedback can feel like an exercise in isolation and not just because it’s uncomfortable in the moment. Research has shown that we tend to avoid people after they give us negative feedback.

And while it can certainly feel easier to see ourselves as the aggrieved party in a vast workplace conspiracy, sequestering ourselves from people who tell us the truth is a big mistake.

If anything we should pull people who tell us the truth even closer. In fact, critical feedback can be an excellent excuse to reset our relationships – and with the right approach, our biggest critics can become our greatest champions.

Remember that change is just one option.

Most successful, ambitious people probably believe that when a behavior is limiting their success, they should work to change it.

However, the best way to manage our weaknesses isn’t always clear-cut. Sometimes feedback can illuminate flaws that are tightly woven into the very fabric of who we are.

If you receive feedback on an aspect of your behavior that is impossible for you to modify, you might want to come clean to your interlocutor.

Explain to that person that some of your behaviors are a personal shortcoming and certainly no indication that you don’t care. Finally, ask for help and understanding as you work to navigate your weakness.

This article originally appeared on Harvard Business Review and was republished with permission.

[Image: Adrienne Bresnahan/Getty]

Tasha Eurich is a workplace psychologist, speaker, author and principal of The Eurich Group. She helps organizations succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders and teams.

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