Responding to Negative Feedback

Feedback is a key driver of performance. Accepting praise from supervisors can boost productivity and morale in the workplace. Similarly, receiving a positive comment on social media encourages us to keep up the good work.

However, no one can be expected to be perfect. As much as we welcome positive feedback, it is negative feedback that tends to stick with us. It can take us by surprise when we least expect it. Harsh comments from a colleague can have a lasting effect on the way we feel about ourselves and we may on instinct try to defend ourselves. In doing so we end up avoiding the problem rather than solving it.

Positive feedback does not always guarantee productivity either and having high expectations of praise can lull us into a false sense of security that everything is going well - even when it may be the exact opposite!

Responding to criticism can be difficult. But negative feedback does not necessarily mean it is a personal attack. On the contrary, it can be seen as an opportunity to gain a better understanding of ourselves and make improvements to work and behaviour, at the same time seeing things from a new perspective. Taking on negative feedback can also show effective leadership skills and that you value what your team has to say.

So, how should we react to negative feedback?

Verbal Feedback

You cannot always control your circumstances, but you can control how you react to them. That means taking the time to listen to what the other person is saying before giving a response. Rushing to react emotionally to a criticism can make the situation worse and effectively damage your reputation. Show that you are willing to listen by remaining calm, reflect on what has been said and respond accordingly.

If you are unsure on the feedback you have received, then ask for clarification. Ask if anyone else has given the same feedback and if so, what suggestions have they made. This helps sort out opinions from facts.  The more information you have about what has been said and why, the better chance you have at modifying your work or behaviour, provided that the criticism is valid.

If, upon reflection, you feel that the feedback you received was unjustified, prepare to defend your reasons in a rational manner – but don’t resort to hostility. It is better to remain on good terms rather than risking irreparable damage to your relationship with those who have criticised you.

Online Feedback

The internet can be rife with negative comments. So-called internet ‘trolls’ find satisfaction in posting harsh remarks intended for publicly humiliating the recipient. Unlike constructive feedback from a manager, this form of feedback is meant to be destructive and should not be taken to heart.

In general, the best way to respond to negative internet feedback is to not respond at all. Just because someone wants to post a negative comment, it does not mean you have to read them, let alone spend your time generating a response.

Genuine criticism is meant to address a problem, but also to suggest ways in which it can be solved. This is called constructive criticism and should be viewed in a positive light. It is meant to help you improve.  Ignoring snide comments and identifying those which are sincere will make you feel happier and more productive.

It is important not to give up because of one negative criticism or to compare someone else’s ‘best’ to your own. The knee-jerk reaction is to feel upset, but you have the ability to control your response and determine the best way to move forward. How you respond to feedback - positive or negative - reflects on you as an individual. Remember that you can only do your best.

About the author

Jessica joined RWA in 2018, having graduated with a First Class Honours degree in Film Studies. Her role as a content designer involves developing new and engaging e-learning modules as well as assisting in the creation of articles for Insight. 

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