Nobody likes 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 should be. Aside from making us feel demoralized and hurt, it often makes us angry at the person providing the feedback.
While all of this is understandable (and normal), what defines a true professional is their ability to recognize and value feedback as an essential part of career growth. In fact, some of the most successful employees not only handle constructive criticism gracefully, they thrive on it. Crucially, they understand the positive subtext behind feedback—someone pays close attention to their work and wants it to improve.
Here are two ways to use negative feedback to fuel career rockets.
#1. Change the way you think about feedback
According to a study published in Journal of Work and Organizational Psychologythe feedback orientation or the feedback willingness of an employee plays an important role in the effectiveness of the feedback process.
The study showed that we are more likely to:
- Find meaning in what we do
- Feel competent in the tasks we carry out
- Find the motivation we need to excel at work
Conversely, if we view feedback as an unavoidable high-pressure event, we’re likely to end up in a vicious cycle that can hold us back from work. This is because people who lack the ability to hear constructive criticism have difficulty finding meaning in what they are doing and after receiving feedback feel less competent at work, plus they lose their motivation to improve in their tasks.
One of the best ways to redefine how you think about feedback is to understand why it’s necessary. Here are three obvious ones:
- It provides insight into your strengths and weaknesses
- It offers an opportunity to show colleagues or supervisors that you have a growth mindset
- It offers you the opportunity to be objective and assess yourself as you would a colleague
#2. Understand your emotional response to negative feedback and then overcome it
The mistake many of us make when receiving feedback is that we just take away the emotional experience of receiving it.
In general, the initial shock of receiving constructive criticism is similar to how we feel when we experience social rejection.
No matter where we are in the organizational structure, we all seek the approval of our peers and supervisors. According to a survey by InnovateMR in 2021, 65% of workers today are struggling with self-doubt at work. Another recent survey by penny found that 41% of vice presidents in the American workforce today believe they are underqualified for their role.
Hearing that we’re not good enough can trigger a state of low self-esteem and compromised security. What follows is a mix of negative emotions such as embarrassment, shame, pain and shock.
While many of us can get stuck in this mental state for long periods of time, a true professional understands that the emotional response is not the intended effect of the feedback session. You begin to process the feedback given pragmatically.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to handle feedback appropriately:
- Listen to the feedback, but detach from the work. Try to imagine that the feedback is being given to someone who isn’t you. While it may be difficult at first, over time it becomes more natural to detach from your job performance.
- Feel free to evaluate the validity of the feedback. Feedback is often based on another person’s subjective experience of your performance. If you disagree, write it down so you can understand why they felt that way, preferably after the feedback session when it’s no longer a question of a heated reaction. If you agree with the feedback, make a note of that as well. Either way, you’ll learn something about how your work is perceived.
- Repeat the points raised during the feedback session. This is an effective way to reinforce the core message of the feedback and goes a long way in making the person providing the feedback feel heard and understood. This, in turn, will show them that you are receptive to coaching.
- Ask for some time to think about the gist 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 in areas that you may be lacking.
- Request a post feedback meeting. Take this time not only to give you an opportunity to respond to points that you may have found inaccurate, but to share your improvement plan. This way you take responsibility for yourself and the person who gave the feedback.
Receiving negative feedback is an essential skill for personal growth. However, due to its critical nature, it can be difficult to handle in practice. By focusing on the facts instead of getting caught up in the emotions that come with criticism, we can learn to take feedback constructively and use it as an opportunity for self-improvement rather than letting it get us down. With practice, learning how to handle negative feedback gracefully becomes second nature.