Feedback, in whatever form, can have a positive impact on any working professional, helping them assess what they are doing right or where there is room for improvement. Criticism or negative feedback in particular is quite valuable as it can lead to increased performance, productivity and overall effectiveness, when implemented correctly.
But receiving and acting on negative feedback, whether from customers or coworkers, is not as easy as it sounds. Depending on how it is delivered, criticism can make the recipient angry or defensive, with potentially harmful effects on their performance.
These six entrepreneurs share some of the best ways to respond to negative feedback to turn an uncomfortable situation into something productive and constructive for everyone involved.
Stay silent and reflect.
“I have had plenty of experiences in situations like this. Instead of getting defensive, stay silent and reflect on what you have been told,” says Julian Montoya, manager of JM11 Investments. By not reacting immediately, you can determine if the feedback actually applies to you or if it’s a criticism based on inaccurate information.
“When it has been thoroughly thought through and you have evidence in your mind, calmly communicate these thoughts to the other party and take the negative feedback constructively. Then, have a plan of action so the person who gave it to you has a timeline for when the issue will be resolved.”
Never take it personally.
A big mistake many working professionals make when facing criticism is that they take it personally, believes Mauricio Cardenal, founder of Roofing Marketing Pros. “One of the most profound lessons I’ve learned in my life is that we should not take things too personally. Yes, negative feedback is painful sometimes, but I know that my actions aren’t a reflection of me.”
Instead, people should embrace criticism as a way of potentially bettering themselves. “Use the feedback to improve. Negative feedback, no matter how harsh, can be a springboard to making massive changes in your life,” Cardenal adds.
Don’t dwell on the past.
How you react to negative feedback boils down to taking responsibility and focusing on the solution, according to Drew Gurley, founder of Redbird Advisors. This is especially true when it comes to rectifying a customer-facing problem.
“The past is the past. Don’t recap what happened and talk about how it could have been prevented. Instead, address the customer’s needs in that moment and identify a solution to show them they are the lifeblood of your business and you value them,” Gurley advises. “Once that has happened, you can reflect and improve your processes moving forward.”
Assess the source.
“While I’m open to negative feedback, my work has made me particularly sensitive to the line between negative feedback and destructive criticism,” says Thursday Bram, writer and editor with The Responsible Communication Style Guide. The first step when assessing feedback, according to Bram, is considering the source.
“Does the critic in question have similar goals? Context for the situation? A perspective I’m missing? Great, I want to hear that feedback,” she explains. “Is that critic rude? Speaking just to hear themselves talk? Unaware of the underlying situation? I’m not going to listen to that.”
Reframe and ask for clarification.
Sean Harper, co-founder of Kin Insurance, thinks the idea of negative feedback should be reframed entirely. “Feedback is useful. Once I started thinking this way, it made me realize I’m grateful for the opportunity to see an experience from another point of view and hopefully improve.”
And if the criticism feels undeserved, you should never hesitate to ask questions. “When I feel a comment is unfounded, I ask for clarification so I can understand where the other party is coming from,” Harper adds.
Prioritize preserving communications.
When negative feedback is provided, all that matters is ensuring that the other party feels heard so as to keep communication open, according to FiveFifty Founder and CEO Ryan Wilson.
“Someone told you something that was hard to hear. Maybe it was tough love, maybe it was simply petty. A sincere ‘thank you’ can go a long way, and follow-up questions can shift a complaint into a productive conversation,” Wilson explains. “Later, on your own time, parse out what bits of the feedback you can use to improve.”