Learning how to receive negative feedback is one of the best things you could do for your personal and professional development. Praise and recognition are amazing, but the true gift that a colleague can give you is telling you where you can improve, and what you can do about it.

Unfortunately, not all negative feedback is constructive or focusing on the solution. But even when you receive comments that you don’t think are helpful, seek the truth behind them. They might not be true to you, but they are true to someone else.

Before receiving any feedback

1 | Change your mindset

There are two kinds of people in this world: people with a fixed mindset, and people with a growth mindset.

People with a fixed mindset give up when it becomes hard, or at the first failure. They tend to see the world in black or white (success versus failure, for instance). They don’t see growth opportunities as they are content with who they are.

People with a growth mindset see challenges as opportunities to learn and develop themselves. They acknowledge that they don’t know what they don’t know, so they try new things to discover more. They are resilient, and they actively listen to feedback to improve themselves.

Changing your fixed mindset to a growth mindset is the first thing you need to do before being able to receive any kind of negative feedback.

2 | Be proactive and work on your areas of development

Nobody is perfect. Perfection can be boring. Having areas of development is a gift, because it gives you direction, it gives you a goal, a purpose, something you can aim at. Assess where your strengths are, and what is holding you back. Be real. By being proactive, you will not be surprised by the feedback you hear, and will be more open to it.

During the conversation

3 | Have empathy

Understand what it takes for the person in front of you to give you that feedback. If it is harsh or not constructive, it might be because the person is not at ease but feels like it’s important to share it with you. They might have the best intention, but might not know how to talk to you about it. Put yourself in their shoes, and think about a time where you gave feedback to someone else, or wish you had but didn’t. How did you feel? Maybe stressed and nervous. There is no reason why the person now giving you the feedback feels any different.

4 | See the big picture

Where does this feedback fit in your performance? How does it impact your relationships at work? How will this area of development limit your professional growth or your career goals? It’s not just about the present, it’s also about your future opportunities.

5 | Be mindful of your breathing and how you feel

During the conversation, do a quick check-in to control your breath and see where you store your emotions. Not only will it help you develop your self-awareness, but it will also give you more control in your response.

6 | Listen to the words they use

We’ve seen above that sometimes negative feedback can be delivered in an nonconstructive way. Instead of focusing on the tone of the feedback, or what you think was said, remember the words they used. The actual words. Use some of the active listening techniques I previously shared on the blog.

7 | Don’t find excuses and don’t argue

Don’t fall in the trap of finding excuses, or playing the victim card. Avoid phrases like “it’s not my fault” or “it’s because of (insert name of someone else)”. The person giving you the feedback very likely doesn’t want to debate it with you. It’s not a battle to win, because it’s not a battle at all. Instead, ask questions.

8 | Ask questions

Whether the feedback is constructive or not, ask as many questions as possible. If you’re not satisfied with the way it is being delivered to you, find a way to make it worthy. What do you need to know about what’s being said to you? Ask the person in front of you how they would improve it, ask for their advice. Make it meaningful if it’s not.

9 | Thank the person, even if you don’t agree

Imagine a difficult conversation where you controlled your emotions, you understood the big picture, you put yourself in their shoes, you asked questions, and where you owned your mistake or weakness. That is being great at receiving negative feedback. Thank the person for what they just did to you (they have helped you improve), even if you still don’t agree with what was said. Remember, they shared their reality and their perception with you, and it means something.

Your work is not fully done though, and now that the conversation is over, there are a few more things you could do.

After receiving negative feedback

10 | Take notes of what was said to you

Immediately list the feedback that was given to you, and what you learned from it. When you write things down, you externalise your thoughts and help your mind process the information in a different way.

11 | Ask more information if needed

If questions come to you after the conversation, don’t be afraid of reaching out to the person for more information.

12 | Share the feedback with people you trust to get their opinion

Talk to people whose opinion you value to get their opinion on what was said to you. It’s important that you don’t go see people who will say what makes you happy, but people who care so much for you that they will tell you the truth. You can ask them questions too on how they would tackle the situation and improve it.

13 | Create an action plan

This is one of the most important steps you can take, and definitely the one that will take the most time. Creating an action plan and revising it with time is crucial. Negative feedback will not be useful if you don’t take any action to improve it. The action plan can be elaborate or simple, as long as it’s clear, specific, and measurable (think SMART). It could be a table where you write down:

  • What to improve
  • How you will improve it
  • Why it matters to improve it
  • When you commit to complete the action
  • Who can support you to succeed
  • Who you are accountable to

14 | Followup with the person

When you have a chance, followup with the person to show how seriously you have taken your conversation and even what you want to achieve or what you have already done. This will likely mean a lot to them that they had an impact, even small, on you.