We all enjoy being praised and rewarded, but criticism, no matter how well-intentioned, is difficult to take. It's only natural to get down on ourselves when someone tells us that we made a mistake or that our work needs improvement. But to succeed, you must learn how to receive and apply negative feedback.
"It is a cliché to say that feedback is a gift – and it often doesn't feel like it in the moment – but it really is critical,” says Craig Chappelow, a senior faculty member at the Center for Creative Leadership.
Feedback shows that your supervisor cares about your success and opens your eyes to weak areas in your performance that you may have overlooked. It can also be used as a powerful motivator to achieve goals and acquire new skills.
So how do we get past the insecurity, disappointment and frustration that we feel when we receive harsh criticism?
1. Ask Questions.
Set aside your emotions and focus on what is being said, rather than how it is being said. If possible, take notes during your conversation, so you don’t have to rely on your memory later. Note taking will also show your boss that you are taking his or her feedback seriously.
In order to ensure that you understand each piece of criticism clearly, ask questions. This will also help you to appear less defensive and will prevent you from trying to justify your actions, says Dick Grote, author of How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals.
“Ask, 'I want to be sure I understand what you’re saying. Do I have it right that you feel...,'” says Grote. “That question can help the other individual communicate clearly whatever his or her core message may be. Asking for examples may help you gain useful insights that are buried in the unconstructive message.”
2. Make a plan.
After your meeting, take some time to reflect on the feedback you received. Review your notes and make a list of each piece of specific criticism. Next to each one, write down a solution. “This is your planning guide,” says executive career coach Tina Nicolai. “Plan your work and work your plan.”
For example, if your boss said that you miss deadlines, there are a few solutions that you could try. You could work in a time buffer, making it a goal to have your work finished a full day before it is due. Maybe your deadlines are not realistic, and another solution would be to negotiate a later deadline that your client is satisfied with. If your projects are overwhelming, you could try breaking them down into smaller tasks that you complete each day.
Feel free to come up with multiple solutions to each problem, and share them with your boss. You may also want to schedule a follow-up meeting in three to six months to see how your plan is working.
3. Look at the big picture.
Once you've had time to process the feedback you received and work out a plan, it's important to monitor how you're feeling as well as the progress you're making. If your solution is working and you're no longer missing deadlines, that’s great. But if your job is a constant struggle and you're dreaming of a more relaxed work environment, it may be time to evaluate your career as a whole.
“Most people have a gut sense that a job isn't a fit, yet they've ignored that instinct," says career coach Hallie Crawford. If that's the case, it may be time to move on to another opportunity. This could mean switching to a different position or department within your current company, or changing careers altogether.
Whether you stay and work your plan or move on to a new job, learning how to handle negative feedback is essential to professional growth. Make a habit of asking for feedback on a regular basis, so you're never surprised by the reviews that you get. The more open you are to criticism the more you will learn, and the more successful you will be