Negative feedback – handle it right

Monday morning. An email comes in. It’s client feedback on your work. “This is an improvement from the previous version, but far from what we expect. We are falling behind schedule and need to get this right soon.” You have a sinking feeling.  

Most of us can recollect at least one instance when criticism from a client left us demoralized. The reason – our brain has separate circuits to handle negative information, which is more sensitive than the ones processing positive experiences. We are also programmed to remember more of the negative than the good moments. No wonder, anger, fear, embarrassment, disappointment, and guilt, that accompany negative feedback, tend to linger. Because of which, we usually ignore or attack adverse remarks.

However, negative feedback can be seen in good light and handled differently. Here’s what you can do the next time you face client response that’s far from happy:

#1: Listen with an open mind

When a Google employee criticized Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg listened, took the critic’s ideas, and worked with them to create something new. The lesson here: consider the source and intent of feedback than merely let emotion take over.

Try this. As you listen to the feedback, be aware of your emotions. Ask yourself why you feel this way. Are you embarrassed? Is it because you tried but muddled up? Take time to process these thoughts and articulate a response.

#2: Assess what’s fair

Andrew Faas, author and expert on tackling workplace bullying, observes: sometimes, feedback is fair and meant for your improvement. And sometimes it’s the result of a misunderstanding or a poor manager. If the feedback is fair, work on improving. And if it’s not, guard against it. Or just look at it as information, sans emotion.

Try this. Don’t react on impulse. Request the client to allow you some time to collect your thoughts. He/ she will appreciate your taking time to analyze their comments. Then, put forward your perspectives.

#3: Work on the relationship

Consider negative feedback as a fresh start to strengthen your relationship with the client. Michelle Friedman, a New York-based executive coach, shares an anecdote. When one of her clients received negative feedback, Friedman advised her to be gracious. The client turned this into an opportunity to thank those who criticized her and asked for ways to make her work better.

Try this. See negative feedback as a chance to engage more with the client. Ask questions, discuss, and find solutions together.

Adverse reactions could actually be an opportunity in disguise, which lets you learn and grow. The next time you face this difficult situation, keep that sinking feeling at bay and think how you best you can deal with it.

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