Negative Feedback: How to Look Good After Looking Bad

We can work it out!

I hate bad feedback. I, of course, realize that bad feedback is the main way we get better.

But I hate bad feedback.

Unfortunately for me, bad feedback can come from many different directions. Whether it’s “the boss” laying it on thick, or someone slamming your company on social media, there’s always a better way to handle the situation than losing your cool. If you’re human, you’ll have to fight the instincts that lead you toward lashing at at the person providing the negative feedback.

Here are some lessons learned in three scenarios.

The scene: In the comfort of your own office, out of nowhere, your chops get busted

Maybe you fudged up. Maybe someone on your team or one of your subordinates fudged up, which means by association, you fudged up.

It’s happened when I’ve been paying the utmost attention, and when I’ve been careless. But, much like growing hair in weird places or the occasional coffee grounds in the bottom of your ironic “world’s ok-est boss” mug, it’s a part of life. Whatever your situation may be, you can end up bearing the brunt of someone’s anger.

In this situation, you have to keep it cool, maaaan. I know this is easier said than done, but hear me out. If you fall apart in a state of emotional distress, you’ll lose the ability to fix the problem and you probably won’t learn anything in the process. Keeping your cool will not only make you look less bad / sad, but it will also afford you the opportunity to problem solve with a clearer head.

If you fall apart in a state of emotional distress, you’ll lose the ability to fix the problem and you probably won’t learn anything in the process.

Whatever you do, do not play the blame game.

Getting trapped in the web of he-said, she-said will only further complicate your situation. It makes you look bad, and, you’re preventing whoever you’re blaming from being a part of the solution.

Bad feedback affords us the opportunity to grow, either as a contributor or as a manager. Aside from what’s required to improve it’s best to leave all other emotion aside. Focusing on the areas for improvement both put both you and the bad-feedback-giver in a better place: one of problem solving and improvement.

Try to chill on the “how do we solve a problem like Maria” conversations.

Maaaaaybe you could have done better this quarter?

Goals being what they are, I’ve had some “needs improvement” quarters in my work career. Sometimes these reviews are conducted with a cool head, sometimes not, but ‘the powers that be’ are definitely not happy with your performance.

Let’s start with this: if your boss says it’s true, it’s probably true. This isn’t to say that bosses can’t be unfair or have unrealistic expectations of goals, but, assuming your boss isn’t Bill Lumbergh, his or her assessment of your performance probably has validity behind it and you need to resolve something right away.

Regardless, the perception of an issue is equivalent to actually having the issue in the interpersonal context.

Address the situation without getting defensive. Remember: this is the ‘growth opportunity’ you’ve been hearing so much about. Surprise! It feels terrible.

Having a hot head will do you no favors. Neither will making excuses. Admit where your weaknesses may have been showing. If you have a legitimate excuse, talk it over. Your boss is human (unless he or she is a robot, in which case, awesome) and will more than likely understand if you’re affected by something personal.

Admit where your weaknesses may have been showing.

Side Note: If you have something going on in your life that you believe may be negatively affecting your work, please talk it out with your boss before they say anything to you. Being the first to bring it up gives you the first mover advantage to get ahead of the bad feedback, looking proactive and professional.

So, here’s what to do. Make a plan on what you need to work on and how you will execute. Bosses will love the initiative. Even if you don’t know what to do on the spot, tell your boss that you’re planning on designating a time to figure out how to best work on whatever it is you need to work on. Then, set up a meeting for the two of you (or your team, if the case may be) to go over your strategies. In the meantime, don’t walk out with your tail between your legs. After you’ve owned up to what you’ve done, walk out feeling confident that you will know what to do next.

You get slammed on social. Where EVERYONE can see it

Ah yes, social media. Not your grandfather’s kind of negative feedback, this particular form of unfavorable evaluation is one that our generation has had to endure over the past few years as well as come up with ways of handling the situation.

The really unfun part about getting critiqued (or absolutely slammed) on social media is that everyone can see it. That means tact is absolutely key. The most important thing to keep in mind is: Do not lose your shit over a comment someone left on your Facebook page or a nasty tweet they tagged you in. (Noticing a trend?) It’s bad enough that anyone can see you being criticized, but you do not want to publically look like a baby. Or Donald Trump post-Iowa Caucus.

Evaluate the situation. If the hate seems extremely minor, let it go. You don’t have to address every small bit of public opinion. However, if you find this to be a BFD (or a big fudgin’ deal), then by all means, address it. Take all emotion out of your response. We know this is easier said than done, but again, you do not want to seem juvenile. Defend yourself calmly. If it’s not time-sensitive, maybe come back to the jab after you’ve had some time to think on it. Then, address the problem and figure out how to solve it. Be knowledgeable, professional, and courteous. You’ll come out looking like the bigger person while your opponent seems like the big jerk troll on the cyber block.

You don’t have to address every small bit of public opinion.

Or take the opposite approach: Own it. It’s hard to be mad at someone who agrees with you, acknowledges the problem, and also wants to solve the problem. It might not be up to you to get things ‘fixed,’ but you can do your best to move the ball forward. I’ve been on the other side of having a frustrating experience and feeling like everything’s going wrong — maybe you have too. Have some empathy and get that person back on the right path.

If all else fails and you think the issue falls into the customer support category, follow this formula:

  1. Admit to the problem and apologize. Maybe they ‘did something weird to cause the problem, but, at the end of the day they expected a bump free ride, and you didn’t deliver.
  2. Let them know why it happened. I usually like to let people know if it’s a common issue or not.
  3. Let them know what you’re going to do about it. If you don’t know, let them know you’re on it and it’s at the top of your priorities to get them back on track.

When all that’s done, do what you said you were going to do and follow up. Repeat until they have zero issues.

And there you have it, folks. Three ways to bounce back after receiving negative feedback that have personally worked for us. Do you have any personal stories of triumph after feeling defeated? Tell us in the comments!