Try This: Respond Positively to Negative Feedback

Criticism can feel hurtful or just plain mean. Here’s how to take the negative feedback and turn it into something positive

Credit: Flickr/apol-photography


Hear no evil: Negative feedback can be unpleasant but ultimately useful

Negative feedback is hard to take, but if you give it a spin, you might find it’s actually helpful

When I heard from a third party that a person I was chasing by phone found my questions “hostile”, I can’t say I reacted well. Sulking, hurt feelings, whining to all and sundry about being misunderstood… you get the drift.

Is there a better way to react to criticism, especially when it cuts to the quick?

Turn Criticism into Positive Action: Five Tips

  1. Put it in context. Do you hear this sort of thing consistently, or is this a one-off? If the latter, you’re more free to dismiss it. If the former, perhaps your style needs reconsidering.
  2. Consider the source. You don’t know if the complaining party was having the day from hell, if you inadvertently touched a nerve someplace only she’s sensitive, if you look like her horrible third-grade teacher, or if she’s critiquing you to draw focus away from her. All these are valid reasons for negative feedback, and none of them have anything to do with you.  
  3. Search out an objective reflection. Loved ones will tell you you’re perfect, as they should. An honest friend, colleague, coach or therapist can put the criticism into perspective: “Yes, you’re very direct. People can read that as hostile.”
  4. Safeguard against future problems. If your emails consistently cause offense, don’t hit send until you review them with a cool head. If phone calls are the trouble, arrange to meet in person for fewer misunderstandings. And never be afraid to call a time out on yourself with a low-key “You know what? Let’s get back to this later.”
  5. Talk it over. If your relationship with the person you’ve offended is close enough to warrant it, go back later to apologize. Then ask what you should have done differently. You’ll feel better once you’ve achieved closure, and your friends will appreciate an end to your whining.  

What if you’re the one complaining? Check out The Squeaky Wheel for how to do it right.