Sunday, May 10, 2020

How to Handle Negative Feedback in 6 Simple Steps

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.

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