How to handle negative feedback at work: Receiving feedback

  • November 28, 2022

While no one enjoys having difficult conversations in the workplace, and most people don’t like to hear that they are doing a lousy job, giving or receiving negative feedback can be a more positive experience than you might think. If all parties embrace it, it can help create a healthier and more honest working environment.

For individuals, negative feedback can be a valuable tool to assess your effectiveness, allowing you to adjust how you work to grow and develop in your role, especially if you are looking to take the next step up or move into a leadership position. Studies show that leaders who ask for critical feedback are seen as more effective by superiors, employees, and peers than those who mainly seek positive feedback.

It can sometimes seem daunting for those delivering negative feedback, so it is essential to consider how to approach this to avoid conflict and ensure that working relationships are not damaged in the process.

To help both those delivering the negative feedback and those receiving it, we have compiled a series of articles with valuable tips to help ensure that the conversation goes smoothly and that a constructive outcome can be achieved. In this first part of the series, we focus on how to handle receiving negative feedback at work:

  • Active listening – Listening to understand what is being said rather than waiting for your turn to respond is a significant first step to converting negative feedback into an opportunity to improve yourself at work. Even if you don’t entirely agree with what is being said, trying to understand and take on board someone else’s point of view can provide a more constructive discussion than an argument. It is worth also bearing in mind that being the person delivering negative feedback is not always easy either and actively listening to what they say shows that you respect their position and empathise with the role they have to play in the conversation.
  • Don’t rush to react - Taking time to consider the feedback you have received rather than rushing to respond with more negativity can lead to a far more positive outcome. While it is natural to feel hurt or angry when hearing something negative about yourself, remaining calm and reminding yourself that it is not a personal attack on you as an individual can help soften the blow. Instead, take a moment and remember to treat the feedback purely as information that can be used to improve your performance at work. This will allow you to respond without lashing out, demonstrating that you are a professional who is mature enough to hear when you are doing something which others feel does not benefit the company. If you feel genuinely overwhelmed with what has been said, request to step away for a short time to compose yourself and gather your thoughts before responding.
  • Take responsibility and be appreciative – Difficult as it may feel at the time, thanking the person delivering the negative feedback, acknowledging that you may have done something wrong and offering a sincere apology where appropriate, e.g. in the case of a specific mistake which perhaps leads to a dissatisfied client, shows that you can take constructive criticism and act on it. Taking responsibility and being grateful that someone has pointed out your error rather than becoming defensive and bickering about the details of what happened shows a professional approach to the situation and may encourage people to give you further feedback – both positive and negative – in the future which can help your professional development. Of course, that’s not to say that you aren’t entitled to offer your perspective on things, but this should be in the form of a considered response rather than a heated debate or series of excuses and should still include recognition that you may not be performing as well as you could be but that you would like to offer some explanation and perhaps ask for support to improve outcomes in the future.
  • Summarise the feedback – At the end of the meeting, it is helpful to summarise what has been discussed to ensure that both parties have communicated effectively and that you have fully understood the input provided. This allows the opportunity to confirm that there have been no misunderstandings about what has been said and agree on what actions must be taken to rectify the situation.
  • Take action & follow up – Using negative feedback as a learning experience allows you to address the issues raised and change behaviours or rectify past mistakes. Creating a plan of action can be a good starting point to show that you have listened and are responding to the feedback, and are serious about developing and improving your role. If people have had a negative view about aspects of the way you work up to this point, it can be tricky to change perceptions, so once you have implemented your plans, request further feedback at regular intervals to ensure your positive changes are both being noticed and being well received. You may be pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback that you will begin to obtain.
  • Adopt a ‘growth mindset’ – Negative feedback can understandably dent your pride. Still, you should prioritise personal growth over a knock to your ego. In that case, a bit of constructive criticism should be seen as a gift which points you in the direction of self-development and can be the key to improving your performance at work. Research shows that people with a growth mindset are far more likely to succeed than those with a fixed mindset. This is because a growth mindset means that you know that the ability to learn and the power to improve lies within yourself. You are, therefore, in control of making the changes needed to resolve any issues.
  • Own your weaknesses – Perhaps most importantly, remember that no one is perfect, change can take time, and there are aspects of our jobs that we all find more challenging than others. With that in mind, please don’t pretend to be something you are not but be self-aware about what you struggle with and be open and honest about it with your team at work. Even without changing your behaviour, self-awareness can help others be more sympathetic and create a better working environment. At the same time, you work on adapting to areas that you find more challenging.

We hope this has provided valuable insights into how receiving negative feedback can be managed effectively and constructively. Look out for part 2 of this series, which will focus on effectively delivering negative feedback.

If you are looking for your next role, or if you are looking for professionals to join your team, contact our expert recruiters at McGregor Boyall today and find out how we can help you.