From “F You! “ to “Thank You!” – How to Deal with Negative FeedbackFeb 18, 2019
As a reflective individual, I know the value of good feedback. Accepting constructive criticism is the key to professional growth. Right? Everytime I put my professional or creative self out there, whether it is teaching a workshop, writing a blog, sharing a photo, or dropping a podcast, it is important to get feedback so I can reflect and grow as a professional. At least, that is what I keep telling myself. In reality, praise is what I really want.
To be completely honest, I have confused feedback with praise. I mean, come on, I worked hard and I need you to acknowledge my effort and tell me how much I changed your life through my actions. I encourage you to rain praise down on me so that I may bathe in your glorious affirmations that reinforce my self perception of perfection.
Ahhh. Give me a minute. I’m basking.
Here’s the truth. Constructive criticism in the form of positive feedback is easy to hear. It builds us up, makes us feel appreciated, and keeps us motivated. We know we did a great job and we need others to pat us on the back and tell us we are amazing. However, not all feedback is positive. Some of it is negative, harsh, brutal, or even hurtful. It is hard to hear and difficult to process. Negative feedback can take our self esteem and smash it against the rocks of reality. One piece of negative feedback can completely overshadow the positive and leave you feeling deflated and miserable. It is easy to become focused on that negative voice as it echos around in your head drowning out the positive. If you are not careful, that negative voice can consume you.
Believe me, I know.
F You to Thank You
The good news is that negative or constructive feedback is much more valuable than a hardy attaboy. The key is to figure out how to remove the emotional reaction and use the feedback as a tool for improvement. I’ll admit, it is not easy but it is possible. As a people pleaser who suffers from episodes of imposter syndrome, I can tell you that embracing the negative feedback can be a powerful learning tool.
Here is my personal strategy for turning negative feedback into a valuable tool for growth. This is not a research-based approach. It is just advice from one neurotic overthinker to another.
Have the Right Mindset
This is the first big step and the hardest. I do not read any feedback until I am mentally prepared for the possibility of hearing something negative. Nothing hurts worse then eagerly digging into feedback ready to hear all the glowing praise and getting smacked by negative reviews. It hits you like a physical blow to the gut. Pow. Barf.
This happens to me all the time. For example, my team recently hosted a successful big event that took months to plan. It was awesome. Our debrief meeting was filled with positive energy and back patting. So, like any good reflective team, we rushed to the feedback surveys so we could see just how awesome our event was. Well, according to the survey responses, there were a couple people who did not think it was awesome. As we read through those few comments, you could feel the positive energy drain from the room. Even though it was one or two negative comments out of a lot of positive, it really bummed us out.
Our mindset was our mistake. We were not in a place to hear the negative. We were still flying high and needed more wind beneath our wings. Not a lead balloon to squish our spirits. That is not to say that the feedback was not valuable. It was, we were just not ready to hear it.
After you have completed something you are proud of, give yourself time to enjoy the sense of accomplishment. You deserve it. Then, when you are ready, approach your feedback by asking the question, “How could we make this better?” That way you are not looking for validation, you are looking for suggestions for improvement. That shift in mindset takes a negative review and turns it into something actionable. Information you can use. However, even with the right mindset, not all of the information is valuable.
Separate the Venting from the Valuable
Now that you are ready to hear the feedback, you need to separate the general comments from the truly valuable. Some people need to vent. Something moved them so much that they felt they needed to speak their minds. An anonymous survey or internet comment thread is the perfect venue for venting and gnashing of teeth. As you read through your feedback, think about how the information provided could be used to answer your question. Comments like, “I could have done it better.” or “This was a terrible.” or “You suck.” really don’t give any information I can use to improve. They are informative, yes. Someone was obviously unhappy, but it does not give any information on how to make them happier next time. So, put them away and don’t think about them. You are looking for comments that will help you be better next time. Look for comments like, “This event was not what I expected. I expected x and got y.” Now, this is something you can use. You can dig into these comments further. What made this person expect x? Could we have been clearer on our marketing materials to manage expectations? Should we have been delivering x instead of y? A valuable comment can get you asking questions focused on improvement, not asking for the number of a good therapist.
So, filter your feedback for valuable information. All your feedback. This holds true for positive comments too. “Your speakers were inspiring!” or “Your presentation was clear and informative.” tells you much more about what went well than hearing “This was great!” You now have a mindset for improvement. Find the feedback that will help you improve. Let the others go, or go vent about them on the internet to make yourself feel better.
Once you have filtered out the valuable from the venting, you are left with a powerful list of information you can actually use to help you grow.
Bring on the Feedback. You’re Ready
In short, dealing with negative feedback starts with a change in mindset. Feedback does not equal praise. Feedback equals information and information equals power. When you look at feedback through the lense of continuous improvement, you distance yourself from the emotional reaction and find the valuable information you can use.This information gives you a direction for action and identifies areas of strength, weakness, and growth. If we only seek out praise in our lives, we run the risk of living in a delusional utopia where we never challenge ourselves or push for improvement. That might sound nice for our fragile egos but it is not a way to live a fulfilling life.
I hope that this post has given you some tools for dealing with with the inevitable negative feedback you will encounter in your life. I’m sorry you have to hear the hard comments. But, I’m proud of you for putting yourself out there in a way that could have an impact on another person. Remember, you are getting feedback because you are doing something. That is awesome! Yay, you! As the feedback comes, approach it with your new mindset and your new quest for information. It will make it easier to say “Thank you!” to even the most negative yet informative feedback. After you do that, you have my permission to tell the unuseful venters to F-off.
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