Nobody enjoys being told they need to improve. It can be difficult to hear that, despite your best efforts, your performance at work is not where it needs to be. In addition to feeling demoralized and hurt, it often makes us feel angry with the person giving the feedback.
While all of this is understandable (and normal), what sets a true professional apart is their ability to recognize and value feedback as an essential part of career growth. In fact, some of the most successful employees don’t just gracefully handle constructive criticism, they thrive on it. Crucially, they understand the positive subtext behind feedback — someone is paying close attention to their work and wants to see them improve.
Here are two ways to use negative feedback as career rocket fuel.
#1. Reframe your attitude toward feedback
According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, an employee’s feedback orientation, or their receptivity to feedback, plays an important role in the effectiveness of the feedback process.
The study showed that if we are willing to seek feedback and act on it mindfully, we are more likely to:
- Find meaning in what we do
- Feel competent at the tasks we perform
- Find the motivation we need to excel at work
In contrast, when we think of feedback as an unavoidable and high-pressure event, we are likely to dip into a vicious cycle that can hold us back at work. This is because people who lack the ability to hear constructive criticism struggle to find meaning in what they do and feel less competent at work after receiving feedback, in addition to losing their motivation to improve at their tasks.
One of the best ways to reframe your attitude toward feedback is to understand why it is necessary. Here are three obvious ones:
- It offers a window into your strengths and weaknesses
- It offers an opportunity to show peers or bosses that you have a growth mindset
- It offers a chance for you to be objective and evaluate yourself as you would a peer
#2. Understand your emotional response to negative feedback and then rise above it
The mistake many of us make when receiving feedback is that we only take away the emotional experience of receiving it.
Generally, the initial jolt of receiving constructive criticism is similar to how we feel when we experience social rejection.
No matter where we are in the corporate structure, we all seek approval from our peers and bosses. According to a survey conducted by InnovateMR in 2021, 65% of the workforce today have problems with self-doubt at work. Another recent survey conducted by Moneypenny found that 41% of VPs in the American workforce today believe they are underqualified for their role.
Hearing that we are not performing well enough can trigger a state of low self-worth and compromised safety. What follows is a mixed bag of negative emotions such as embarrassment, shame, hurt, and shock.
While many of us can get stuck in this mental state for prolonged periods of time, a true professional understands that the emotional reaction is not the intended effect of the feedback session. They begin processing the feedback that was provided in a pragmatic manner.
Here is a step-by-step breakdown of how to deal with feedback gracefully:
- Listen to the feedback, but detach yourself from the work. Try to imagine that the feedback is being given to someone who isn’t you. While it may be hard at first, over time, detaching yourself from your work performance will come more naturally.
- Quietly evaluate the validity of the feedback. Feedback is often based on somebody else’s subjective experience of your performance. If you disagree, make note of it so that you can understand why they felt the way they did, preferably after the feedback session when it is no longer a heat-of-the-moment reaction. If you agree with the feedback, make a note of that too. In either case, you will learn something about how your work is perceived.
- Reiterate the points brought up during the feedback session. This is an effective way to consolidate the core message of the feedback and goes a long way in making the person providing the feedback feel heard and understood. This will, in turn, show them that you are receptive to coaching.
- Ask for some time to mull over the core message of the feedback. This is when you can rationally and calmly unpack the talking points of the feedback session and formulate a plan to improve yourself in areas you might be lacking.
- Request a post-feedback meeting. In addition to providing an opportunity for you to respond to any points you may have felt were inaccurate, take this time to communicate your plan to improve. This way, you hold yourself accountable to yourself and to the person who provided the feedback.
Receiving negative feedback is an essential skill for personal growth. However, it can be difficult to handle in practice due to its critical nature. By staying focused on the facts rather than getting caught up in the emotions associated with criticism, we can learn how to take feedback constructively and use it as an opportunity for self-improvement rather than letting it bring us down. With practice, learning how to handle negative feedback with grace will become second nature.