Think about the last time your boss gave you negative feedback — on a presentation, a project, or even your general work performance. Did you handle it as well as you could have?
When you receive negative feedback on your work, the emotions you feel undoubtedly affect the way you respond. But the way you handle yourself in these moments can be pivotal for your personal and career growth. Here are three tips for handling negative feedback with professionalism.
1. Focus on main issues, not details
One of the ways you should handle negative feedback is to stay focused on the main points of the feedback, not the details. Asking for elaboration on details — or worse, disputing them — will only make you look defensive.
For example, imagine your boss was giving you feedback on a presentation and said the following: “I’ve heard from several people that you didn’t come across as trustworthy.” Do not ask, “Which people? What did they say?” Instead, say something like, “Wow, I did not realize I was coming across that way. What do you think I could do to improve in the future?” This shows you care about getting better and aren’t interested in creating drama with your colleagues.
2. Recognize that the messenger is uncomfortable, too
Another way to improve the way you respond to negative feedback is to understand that your boss probably isn’t enjoying the experience, either. Giving negative feedback comes with the territory of being a manager — your boss is almost certainly not doing it because he or she is out to get you or wants you to fail. So, give your boss the benefit of the doubt. If you can get in an empathetic mindset, you’re far less likely to let your emotions get the best of you.
3. Be responsible for sorting out the meaning of the feedback
Another effective way to handle negative feedback is to accept responsibility for sorting out the meaning of the feedback. For example, if your boss says, “You’re not being assertive enough,” don’t reply with “What do you mean?”
Instead, give your boss options — lay the cards out on the table. You could say, “Do you mean I’m not challenging others enough or that I’m not pushing my ideas enough?” This approach makes giving the feedback much easier for your boss, and it shows that you’re really listening and care about getting better.
No amount of preparation is going to turn hearing negative feedback into a pleasant experience. But by using these three strategies, you will maintain professionalism and make it more likely you will receive positive feedback in the future.