How to Handle Negative Feedback From Your Boss

negative feedback
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Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid it. Receiving negative feedback is an inevitable part of everyone’s career. However, it’s never a pleasant experience because as humans we are hard-wired to want to feel valued. We all want to be praised and recognized for our contributions at work.

If things go sideways, getting called out by your boss is stressful at best and completely demoralizing at worst. In a recent TED podcast, psychologist Dr. Adam Grant discussed how to get comfortable hearing hard truths. Dr. Grant recounted an occasion where his podcast guest was able to bounce back after being called “the worst manager at his company.” If that wasn’t bad enough, the feedback was shared in front of 200 coworkers.

Good managers will do their best to give constructive feedback in real-time, and in private. If you’re on the receiving end of a hard truth that’s tough to take, please know that negative feedback is not the end of the story. It’s a valuable opportunity to accelerate forward.

Why Negative Feedback Is a Good Thing

a promotion without a raise

Through my work as a career coach, I help people bounce back from setbacks at work. Everyone makes mistakes. In the moment, it’s easy to forget that what you choose to do next is what really matters.

If you’re on the receiving end of negative feedback, my advice is to use it to your advantage. In the moment it can be hard to swallow but be respectful and professional. Be a good listener and an even better problem solver. The trick is to be objective and turn the negative into a positive. Take it, learn from it and solve it.

If you’ve been called into your manager’s office to discover you’re not meeting expectations, try to be objective and empathetic. Step out of your own interpretations for a moment to consider your manager’s objectives. Remember, it’s not easy for managers to deliver negative feedback either. Recent surveys conducted by the leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman, reported that 44% of managers found it stressful and difficult to give negative feedback and 20% avoid it entirely.

A good boss will be invested in your career and your professional development. They will communicate what they want, need or expect so that you can adjust and grow. Constructive feedback will deliver a learning objective, it should be specific and have clear examples. It should also be sandwiched with positive feedback. Effective leaders use praise as well as negative feedback to get the best outcomes. A good boss will keep emotion out of the conversation and if you’re on the receiving end, you should do the same.

By engaging in and responding to productive feedback discussions, you have a unique opportunity to become even better. To dive in deeper, three managers share their advice on how to turn negative feedback into a positive for your career.

Listen Before You Act

negative feedback

Rachael Hope Caine, Marketing Manager at Shake Shack, recommends you take a few deep breaths to help process what you’re hearing.

“Say thank you for the feedback, pause and consider what is true in the feedback,” she advises. “Ask clarifying questions so you can be sure to hear what improvements need to be made. Remember, there is a difference between being defensive and needing to re-frame a situation from your perspective.”

Noorin Fazal, Head of Program Design at SV Academy, agrees. “Stay calm and get curious. Ask your manager open-ended questions in order to better understand the feedback. For example, “How could I have done this better?”

“Sit with it,” advises Sara Campbell, Marketing and Partnerships Director at Pakt. “Getting negative feedback is never fun; there’s not really a way to avoid feeling the sting of it. Give yourself some time to let it sink in so you can figure out how to respond in a way that is appropriate and constructive.”

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Execute a Plan

After you’ve listened and reviewed the information shared, it’s time to create a plan you will execute. Acting immediately makes it clear to your manager that you’ve processed the feedback and that you are eager to improve.

Fazal recommends a clear and comprehensive approach: “As part of your plan, incorporate the goal you are working towards; the actions you will take; results you are expecting to achieve and regular check-ins with peers, leads, and managers to ensure that you are on the right track.”

Don’t be afraid of acknowledging the feedback as you continue to work on moving forward. This action-oriented, problem-solving approach will allow you to flip the situation and start to cultivate an even stronger reputation. Owning it and proposing solutions demonstrates your accountable, responsive and proactive. Those are all fantastic skills to have.

Campbell encourages a positive outlook as you start to act.

“Keep in mind that getting constructive feedback is how you grow,” Campbell says. “The more capable you are of responding to it and incorporating it, the more you’ll benefit from it.”

Use soundboard you trust if everything seems cloudy and you’re struggling to see the silver lining.

“Share the feedback with someone that you trust,” Fazal suggests. “When you share the experience out loud and hear the interpretation of an invested third party, you may gather useful new perspectives.”

Don’t Become Defensive, Discouraged or WithDraw

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Even though the feedback may seem unfair, surprising or even hurtful, keep your emotions and your reactions in check. If we’re feeling under attack our instincts are to try to defend ourselves, however in the moment this could rebound badly.

“Even if you feel like the feedback is off base, it won’t help you to dismiss it out of hand,” advises Campbell. “Don’t feel like a failure, and don’t beat yourself up about it. Getting negative feedback is just part of the process. Accept it, address it and move on.”

It’s easy to get anxious and just want to move past the difficult feedback,” says Caine. “Take the time to really understand the issue so you know how you can improve.”

When we’re on the receiving end of negative feedback, we often forget the strengths that we bring to the table. Fazal recognizes the tendency and advocates you get ahead of self-defeating thoughts.

“Do not let the negative feedback overshadow your ‘wins’ or compromise your sense of self-confidence,” Fazal says. “In the face of criticism, it’s important to keep showing up and trying your best. This is the time to show your coachability and professionalism.”

If you’re struggling with anxiety or stress as a result, Caine encourages to remember that’s a normal reaction.

“We are wired to want to be approved of so if we know someone is going to tell us something critical, of course we will feel anxious,” Caine says. “Remind yourself that you have your own agency in your opinion of yourself. Negative feedback is either a great way to reframe a conversation between you and your boss. It’s not a determinant of your overall value as a human. No matter what, you are not defined by your job or your boss’s feedback of you. This feedback is only a reflection of a part of your work, not all of it and especially not of all of you.”

Keep Things in Perspective

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Don’t stress over who’s right and who’s wrong. Take positive action, focus on what you can do next. Understand the lesson, but don’t blow it out of proportion either. You’re not a failure. Give yourself time to reflect and vent privately if you need to. Then put it behind you. Don’t let it demolish your confidence, that’s the worst thing you can do.

Some positive steps you can take include practicing self-care, get physical, shift your mood, spend time with people who motivate and inspire you. It’s also a good time to remind yourself of your accomplishments.

Try to keep it in perspective,” Campbell advises. “You’re probably doing a lot of things well, too, don’t forget about them! There’s no need to give negative feedback undue weight. It’s just part of the process.”

Whatever went wrong won’t define you forever, you get to choose how you use it to your advantage. People will remember how you responded, and what you achieved next. In a nutshell, you can turn a negative into a positive. A hard truth can enable you to take action that will advance your career. Learning how to handle negative feedback, learn from it and accelerate is a valuable part of your growth as a professional.

Fazal knows how you feel in the moment will not be the same as how you’ll feel in the future. “Ask yourself constantly how you can reframe uncomfortable situations in your life as gifts,” Fazal suggests. “Over time, you’ll notice that these challenges become sources of excitement and gratitude because they mark your growth as a person.”

Tell Us What You Think

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received on dealing with negative feedback? We want to hear from you. Share you wisdom in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Octavia Goredema is a career coach and the founder of Twenty Ten Talent. Find her on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @OctaviaGoredema.