How to deal with negative feedback.

You just left a draining meeting. It was tough. It was too long. You know it wasn’t perfect, but you did your very best. Back in your office, you sink into the chair, close your eyes and take a deep breath. 
Someone knocks on the door. “Do you have a minute?” Of course, you always have a minute.
And if your lack of energy wasn’t enough to handle in this moment, here comes a list of all the things you should fix about yourself. And how you work with others. And how you talk to your manager, they style of your emails, working too autonomously, being inconsiderate, not dressing appropriately, bringing in reports that don’t meet expectations. And so on.
Depending on what kind of person you are, you now start shouting, going quiet or can’t hold back your tears.
The person leaves – urgent next meeting. And you are left alone with your feelings and a laundry list of failures.
When the tears subside or you punched the wall, what do you do with this information?
Here are a few tips how to sort through that negative feedback.

Any feedback is an insight.

Let’s look at it this way. Whatever feedback you get from self-evaluation or from others is an insight. Though especially when coming from others, it’s not solely referring to you as a person. It also tells you a lot about the other one and your relationship with them. They mix in their own worldviews, their attitudes and beliefs and have their very own style. Which is either kind, compassionate and helpful or not.
But however accurate and clear the feedback was, the insight might still be uncomfortable. You are torn between wanting unconditional love and acceptance and wanting to learn and improve. Both are very basic human needs and they don’t often know how to go alongside each other.
Sometimes feedback even stirs up emotions like shame and embarrassment that are difficult to handle. The brain then looks for the easiest way out wanting to avoid the uncomfortable feelings. In that situation we might dismiss the feedback entirely.

How to know which feedback is relevant.

I suggest you let the emotions pass, even if it takes a day, and take a structured approach to assess the feedback you just got.
Was the feedback…
  • positive and accurate? Use it too feel good about yourself and to learn about your strengths. Brainstorm other opportunities to use these strengths more often.
  • positive and inaccurate? Be honest with yourself: Is this really true or are you benefiting from lucky circumstances? If the latter is true, feel free to ignore this feedback.
  • negative and inaccurate? You can feel free to ignore this one as well. Even though it hurts to hear it, especially if you find it unfair, this type of feedback says more about the person who gave it to you than your actual behaviour.
  • negative and accurate? If what others say is correct and it makes you feel uncomfortable, it’s time to listen. Don’t rationalise, don’t blame it on the universe and don’t pretend like it’s not a big deal. Here’s the real development opportunity for you to understand either if you are not really aware about the expectations towards you or actually are doing something wrong.
Now that you know what part of the laundry list can actually help you to develop, let’s find out how you can put that into action.

How to act on feedback.

Let’s look at the positive feedback first. Was it accurate? Then what are you waiting for? Throw some confetti, have a little victory dance and indulge for a moment in pride and joy. Savouring these positive emotions builds your resources. And knowing what you’ve done well (and keeping a track record of it) will come handy the next time you need a boost for your self-confidence.
What if the positive feedback wasn’t accurate? You can just ignore it then. No harm, no foul. Same for negative, inaccurate feedback. Learn to let it go.
The biggest opportunity for you is in the negative feedback that’s accurate. Your brain will want to protect you. It will rationalise, find excuses and downplay the implications of your actions. It means well, but don’t be fooled. Your ego might have taken a hit, but it’s well worth the pain. You’ll come out the other end a stronger and better self.
How often do you go out and actively seek feedback? And do you regularly offer feedback to your team, your peers and your boss?