How to Deal With Negative Feedback

Get tips on learning from negative feedback.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #44

Negative Feedback Identifies Your Blind Spots

Spending time understanding how you impact others is always a good investment in your career.

The idea is that the model describes how humans interact as we are getting to know each other and building trust. Communication theory suggests that the larger the category 1 area is, the greater the shared mutual understanding, and the greater the trust among the team.

As I mentioned, the Johari exercise opens the door for a discussion about perceptions. If you receive feedback that contains negative adjectives, it’s critical to have a discussion to understand what specific behaviors lead to these perceptions. Ask whoever delivered the feedback for more details. Again, you want to understand specific behaviors that led to the perceptions. The point is that you can change specific behaviors. But you can’t change if you don’t know how you need to behave differently.

Ask for Specific Behavioral Feedback

Let's say you've been told others think you are arrogant. When you ask for more details, you want the person delivering the negative feedback to say something like “When you’re in a meeting and you interrupt team members, they perceive that you don’t want to listen. When you don’t use direct eye contact to respond and you raise your chin slightly in the air, people perceive you as arrogant.”

What to Say When Responding to Negative Feedback

It might be somewhat difficult to hear this feedback, but it’s important to listen carefully without reacting. When you receive negative feedback from a variety of people, I suggest talking with each one individually--for example, over lunch. Tell each one-- privately and sincerely-- that you would like their help. Tell each that you received feedback that surprised you and that you want to change. Explain that you want to do what it takes to repair the damage because you value them. Then ask each person to help identify specific behaviors that led to their negative perceptions.

Listen, Repeat and Learn

Again, it’s critical that you NOT REACT. Don’t defend or explain your behaviors. Your goal is to simply listen and repeat back what you understand people to be saying. Then thank them for sharing with you. You may want to also share some positive feedback with each person. Tell them specifically why you value them as part of the team. The key will be for you to be sincere, genuine, and most importantly, open to the comments.

You might also consider talking to a trusted friend. Ask if he has observed similar behaviors. Finally, after you’ve gathered as much feedback as you can, you need to honestly evaluate the information and decide if you want to change. If so, you’ll need to figure out and practice your new behaviors.

Finally, if you think discussions with some people would be too risky or you wouldn’t feel comfortable having the discussions I mentioned, you may be able to get similar feedback from attending an interpersonal development seminar. However, I think open, honest discussions about difficult topics often lead to much stronger, better relationships even when it feels uncomfortable at the time.

Spending time understanding how you impact others is always a good investment in your career. By further developing your self-awareness you can be more productive and successful. You can also improve your relationships which can lead to decreased conflict and increased stability and harmony.

This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

P.S. I have links to two electronic versions—The Johari Window and the challenging inversion--The Nohari Window. You might consider using one or both of these with your teammates to stimulate further discussion. I also included additional resources in the show notes for professional trainers.


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If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.


Electronic Version of the Nohari Window (Only for those up for a challenge)

Feedback image courtesy of Shutterstock


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.

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