7 Steps To Staying Sane When Getting Negative Feedback

Here's an article I wrote for the New York Enterprise Report for entrepreneurs; however, it applies to any work situation. Enjoy and leave a comment if you've found this useful. 

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Your business is like your baby, and if someone says it’s ugly or that something is wrong with it, it’s only natural for you to go a little crazy inside. If you’re enlightened enough to not be emotionally attached to your business, hearing negative feedback still isn’t easy because it points to more work and the fact that, maybe, you’re just not where you need to be as a leader. Here’s what you need to know about how to receive negative feedback from your employees and others in your life about your business or how you run it.

 


 

3 Things You Must Know about Negative Feedback

  1. It’s not you, it’s your brain. Our brains have a negativity bias, which means that our attention automatically focuses on what’s wrong, bad, or threatening almost twice as much as it focuses on the good stuff.
  2. It’s true; no pain, no gain. Dealing with the discomfort of negative feedback is like lifting heavy weights—it doesn’t feel good in the moment, but it’s helping you build a stronger business and a more resilient attitude. Avoid avoiding the feedback; welcome it.
  3. Stick to the facts. If your employees tell you they don’t like the new product description you came up with, it doesn’t mean you have an unworthy product, it just means you need a copy writer. 

How to Handle It: The 7-Step Plan to Sanity
Let’s imagine that a long-time, trusted employee just barged into your office unannounced with some negative feedback—a combo of constructive comments and some rather destructive, borderline-personal ones. Your goal is to stay calm, receive the necessary information, and move on quickly and peacefully. Here’s how:

  1. Listen Actively. More than 80 percent of communication is non verbal, so use your body to communicate “I hear you.” Unfold your arms and legs, nod regularly, and lean towards the employee. Keep your voice calm and friendly. 
  2. Stay curious. Regardless of the quality or validity of the feedback ask yourself, “What can I learn from this? What am I seeing that I wasn’t aware of before? This helps mitigate defensiveness.
  3. Don’t interrupt, especially to defend yourself: By exercising control of yourself, you will feel more in control of the conversation. If the feedback is meant to rile you and you don’t take the bait, your employee will ease up naturally. 
  4. Say thank you. It’s taken time, courage, and lots of reflection for your employee to share his thoughts. Whether or not you agree with him, let the first thing you say be authentic and appreciative: “First off, I just want you to know that I really appreciate the thought and time that you put into your sharing this feedback. Conversations like these help us grow.”
  5. Recap what you heard using the employee’s language. Not only is this satisfying to the employee, because he feels he has been heard, but it helps you both process the discussion. Bonus points if you say “I” instead of “you” when possible to signal your ability to take responsibility. For example, “I am hearing that the way I handled the meeting on Friday led to a lot of confusion,” versus, “It seems like you don’t know what’s going on.”
  6. Give yourself some space. It’s really hard to thoughtfully respond in the moment, so build in some padding time: “Again, I really value your feedback. If you don’t mind, I’d like to give this some quality thought. I have a packed week, can I get back to you next Thursday?” 
  7. Close honorably. Follow up with your response when you promised. Thank the employee again, recap what you heard, share what you think, and what action, if any, you’ll take. “Thanks again for your feedback. I understand now that I wasn’t as clear as I could have been on Friday. Moving forward, I’ll have Nancy send out a recap of next steps so we avoid confusion.”


Dealing with Your Employees
These seven steps can be used to deal with negative feedback coming from anyone—from your employees to your mother-in-law to your dry cleaner. But when dealing with an employee, you may want to consider more specific steps to receive and grow from the feedback. Consider this:

 

  • Make it easy and regular. Hold regular office hours or create a weekly Town Hall meeting (like Google’s founders) and take any questions or comments as they come up. This shows transparency, courage, and care.
  • Validate what you’re hearing with some research. Conduct some one-on-one conversations with key stakeholders and send out an anonymous survey using surveymonkey.com to gather more information.


Dealing with Your Significant Other 
We tend to have more boundaries at the office than we do at home, which can lead to some messy conversations. Create agreements about how and when to get negative feedback from your spouse, especially as it relates to your business.

  • Pick a good time to talk about it. Help your sweetheart read your signs. For example, calmly request, “Honey, I really value your feedback. At the end of a hard day, I’m not able to really listen as attentively as I’d like to. Weekends are better or if I have advance notice at least I can get in the right headspace.”
  • Discuss how you want to receive feedback and why. Are you the kind of person that likes to small-talk and gently make your way into a difficult conversation? Or do you just want it direct and to the point? “Sweetheart, it’s really hard for me to only hear negative feedback. It would be really helpful if, in addition to what you think we could do better, you also mention what we do well. Otherwise I feel really deflated.”


Dealing with Your Peers
Even though our friends want to help, sometimes they just don’t understand. Consider this:

  • Where is the feedback coming from? Is the feedback coming from experience, or is it just an opinion? Does this person truly understand your business or accurately represent your customer? If not, get a second opinion.
  • Just say, “Thanks for sharing.” You aren’t responsible for responding to everyone—especially to a friend or peer. Just say, “Got it! Thanks for sharing your thoughts,” and move on.