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How to respond to negative feedback

No one likes to receive negative feedback at work – but handled the right way, you can use it to your advantage to improve your performance and relationships with colleagues.

No one likes to receive negative feedback at work – but handled the right way, you can use it to your advantage to improve your performance and relationships with colleagues.

The next time you get negative feedback…

'Listen patiently to what they are saying and don't interrupt so that the person feels they can speak openly and honestly. It can be quite difficult for them too – so if you start getting defensive and arguing your case too early, you won't get to hear what they feel it is important to communicate,' says Corinne Mills, Managing Director of Personal Career Management and author of Career Coach.

Once they have finished, Corinne suggests thanking them for their comments and for speaking so candidly. 'Again this will reassure them that you are listening to, and taking on board what they are saying. Then ask questions where anything is unclear. For instance, you might ask them for an example of when you behaved in the way they described.

'When you show that you have listened, you can then gently challenge anything that they have said which you feel is unfair or offer information which may change their perspective. They are more likely to listen to you if they feel you have listened to them.'

You can also ask for their advice on how to improve. 'This helps them know that you are taking it seriously and want to address the situation, and that you value their opinion.'

If you disagree with what's said

'What and how feedback is offered says as much about the person giving feedback, as the person receiving feedback,' warns career coach Ruth Winden of Careers Enhanced.

'People can mix up giving feedback with verbalising long-held frustrations, or reacting in the spur of the moment, without giving much thought to what they are saying. This often leads to broad-brushed comments and generalisations on the lines of "you always do this… you never do that…"'

This kind of complaint sounds more like an accusation than feedback, and knowing how to break the cycle of criticism is key.

Ruth says: 'However hard it is – stay calm, don't get drawn into an emotionally charged response, and don't get defensive. Ask for specific examples so you can consider what happened and check your own understanding. If you can see their point, bring the conversation back to a level where you can both come to an agreement to address the issue. If you still find the complaint is unjustified – you have a choice: leave it, get feedback from others or park it for further exploration.'

For feedback to be constructive and help you change, it must focus on your behaviour, not your personality.

'You can't change who you are, but you can change how you operate and achieve better results next time round. To be open for feedback, you need evidence – specific examples so that you can understand the impact of your behaviour and appreciate any repercussions you might not have been aware of,' adds Ruth.

Corinne also advises checking with other people to see if they share the same view. 'If they do, you know that either the feedback is right or you have a perception problem whereby other people think this is true about you even if it isn't.'

Dealing with harsh feedback

If you receive feedback that you find especially harsh, Ruth suggests checking what is missing for you so you can consider it as valuable input.

'Is it the circumstances in which the feedback was given, the tone of the feedback, the content or the lack of specificity? Giving constructive feedback is an art, and not everyone who gives feedback is able to do it well (yet).

'Constructive feedback gives us the chance to learn and grow and can be a precious gift. Nit-picking is not feedback – it is imposing the highest standards and unrealistic expectations which others will always fail to meet.'

While you should always listen to other's observations, be aware that their opinion may not be valid. 'Difficult individuals will use negative feedback as a way to control or undermine others, so be alert to the fact that the feedback may be about their wish to manipulate you rather than be constructive,' warns Corinne.

If you struggle with feedback from others, Ruth advises to thank them for their consideration and tell them what you need from them, so you can respond best to their suggestions. 'If they really want you to change for the better, they will welcome your feedback on their own feedback style.'

Finally, the best employee's advice is to approach criticism with an open-mind and see it as helpful. 'Nobody would get better at their job if they were told simply that they were wonderful all the time,' adds Corinne.

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