How You Should Really Handle Negative Feedback at Work

By Mel Sim

And it doesn’t involve feeling sorry for yourself….

It’s bound to happen. Your boss not feeling pleased about some work you did or a colleague claiming that you didn’t do your part for the project. Negative feedback – it’s inevitable and you better get used to it because not everything is always hunky dory at work, and in fact, some form of negative feedback is good for you! For starters, it jolts you back to reality where you realise that you don’t know everything there is already and with every negative feedback is the opportunity to learn more and be better.

But ouch, the sting when you get one! Especially when you’re there in your boss’s room, sitting meekly like a mouse listening to all the wrong things you’ve done. It’s hard to swallow for sure but how you respond to it will make a huge difference between being seen as confident and professional versus being petty and childish. So what are you supposed to do at the very moment someone is handing you negative feedback? These five tips:

#1 Don’t get defensive!
The first thing you want to do is defend yourself by saying things like “But I did this…” and “That’s not right…” Unfortunately, they all sound very immature and in situations like these, it’s best to control whatever comes to your mind first because mostly those are all things you want to say to defend yourself. Even if it’s not your fault! Maybe an intern screwed up the job but because that intern is under your care, your boss is going to blame you for it. Still, you need to suck it up and take in the feedback. And then claim responsibility for it and assure your boss that you will do better in the future.

#2 But at the same time, don’t keep saying sorry!
Don’t go overboard with the apologies, even if you really did a mistake. Once is enough; saying it 10 times isn’t going to erase the fact that you made a mistake. Make your apology count – show that you are sincerely sorry and that you understand the problem, and you will strive to do better in the future.

#3 Be careful of your body language
OK, so you are sitting there listening to your boss berate you for a bad job. You are biting your tongue to make sure you don’t get defensive. But what about your body language? Are you rolling your eyes at certain comments? Crossing your arms in defiance? You may not say it but your body language can certainly give away a lot about how unpleased (and unprofessional) you are with the situation.

#4 Clarify if you can
Not at the moment it happens but go back and think about everything your boss said. Is there really a way you can improve your performance? If so, make these points clear and go back to your boss a few days or a week after, and share your ideas. Your boss will appreciate you taking the initiative to really consider the feedback and turn it around as an opportunity to do better.

#5 Most importantly, let it go!
Ah… something that’s very important when it comes to criticism. Dwelling on it won’t help because you’re missing the point: To take that feedback and learn from it. Dwelling on it basically just means you can’t move on from receiving negative feedback and you just keep replaying whatever was being said instead of using it as an opportunity to understand what should be done instead. At the end of the day, one mistake doesn’t make you a lousy worker; it just means you have plenty more to learn and that’s precisely what you should be doing every day – learn! Plus, dwelling on the feedback isn’t going to get you anywhere so instead, channel that energy into exercise, going for a walk in the park, spending time with your pet… anything to make you feel better and ready to take on the world again.

Photo by PeopleImages on iStock

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