Leadership Perspectives

Six things to know about hearing negative feedback

Marie Peeler

Almost no one actually enjoys receiving negative feedback.  At best, we feel sorry for whatever we did or didn’t do to earn the feedback.  At worst, we think that we did not earn the negative feedback at all and we feel hurt by it or betrayed by the feedback giver.

But proactively soliciting feedback and learning to take it well is critically important to our leadership success.  It’s important to not let our egos – or a lack of courage – thwart our ability to use feedback constructively.  Feedback can help us see ourselves as others see us and address challenges that we, otherwise, might never have known existed.

Here are six key things to understand about feedback.

  1. Feedback helps us better understand what others are thinking.  Have you ever stopped buying a product or service without telling the person or the company why?  If so, they missed out on information that may have helped them improve their services or better meet customer expectations.  When you miss feedback, you miss information that you need to know.
  2. Feedback doesn’t have to be true to be valid.  As I just mentioned, feedback helps us better understand what others are thinking.  Whether we agree or not, it’s still valuable information that can help inform our future actions.
  3. Feedback helps us close the gaps between how we see ourselves and how others see us.  Otherwise, it is entirely too easy to coast, convinced that we are showing up a certain way in the world, while actually doing the opposite.
  4. If you tend to take feedback poorly or become defensive, many people simply won’t share feedback with you.  They may justify withholding by telling themselves that they don’t want to hurt your feelings but often the reality is that it’s easier to just not bother.  If you avoid feedback by throwing up a defensive barrier, it will work, people will stop giving you feedback and it will be your loss.
  5. Not everyone knows how to deliver feedback with compassion. That may make it harder to take in, but doesn’t make it any less valid or important.  The best you can do is model compassionate feedback giving.
  6. The easiest way to take in and process feedback is to solicit it.  When you do regular check-ins or proactively orchestrate your own feedback process, it puts you in the driver’s seat.  Somehow, mentally this make the feedback easier to take.  It’s not being foisted on you; instead, it is being offered at your request.