How to Deal With Negative Feedback

Get tips on learning from negative feedback.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #44

Today's article is about what to do after you've gotten negative feedback.

How to Deal with Negative Feedback

Very early in my career I was told “Lisa, you’re like a big ship, a cruise liner, coming into port. You rock all the other boats without even knowing it.” At the time, I felt that I valued my colleagues; yet clearly this wasn’t how others perceived me.

I still remember the sting of receiving this negative feedback. However, this information led to many positive changes and gave me a much better understanding of how I interacted with and impacted others. Ultimately it made my relationships with my boss and colleagues much stronger than I could have ever imagined.

So, in a way, getting negative feedback is actually good news. The person giving you the feedback is shedding light on perceptions that previously were unknown to you; in essence he or she is sharing with you some of your  blind spots. It’s good because now you have additional information that will help you to stretch and to grow.

The Johari Window: Getting Helpful Feedback

In fact, there is a classic tool used by cognitive psychologists called the Johari window. It was designed to help people get exposure to their blind spots through feedback. (By the way, don’t let the name throw you, it’s just a combination of the first names of the inventors, Joe Luft and Harry Ingham: Johari).

It’s very useful tool, so I’ll take just minute to talk about it more.

How the Johari Window Works

First you choose five or six adjectives from a list of 55 that describe your personality. So for me I might pick confident, friendly, trustworthy, organized, and energetic. Then you give that same list of 55 adjectives to peers, your boss, staff members…really anybody that knows you professionally. Then you ask them to choose five or six adjectives that describe you. (I think the results are more meaningful if you do the exercise separately with work colleagues and personal friends). Try to get at least four people to complete the short exercise for you because the more people, the better the results.

Ultimately what you’ll end up with are adjectives in four different categories. Image a piece of paper divided into four sections.

  • Category 1 would be words that both you and the others chose for you -- that’s the upper left side.

  • Category 2 would be words that neither you nor the others chose --that’s the bottom right side.

  • Category 3 would be the words that you chose, but your colleagues didn’t-- your private side-- that’s the bottom left side. And finally,

  • Category 4 words your colleagues chose but you didn’t -- your blind spots-- that’s the upper right side.

The overall goal of doing this exercise is to expose your blind spots and private side because then that opens the door for a sensitive discussion about those perceptions. Of course, after these discussions, those adjective would then be moved into category 1 – the category that lists adjectives that both you and the others know about.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.