Posted January 07, 2013 by

Negative Performance Feedback: Use it To Your Advantage

One businessman giving negative feedback to another businessman

One businessman giving negative feedback to another businessman. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

No one likes being told that they are bad at something.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a coach riding you about poor technique, a boss complaining about your lack of industriousness, or an interviewer chastising you for not having good answers prepared for his or her questions, chances are your first emotional reaction isn’t to give the person a hug for calling you out. Instead, we tend to feel hurt or angry, and that often comes out as defensiveness. While this is a natural first reaction, the problem comes when we can’t move past those initial feelings and take something positive out of the criticism.

Why is this important? Because studies have shown that those who go out of their way to get feedback and work on improving themselves tend to be more successful and display better leadership abilities than their peers. Of course, it’s a lot easier to tell someone to use negative feedback to their advantage than it is to actually do it, so below we’ve included several techniques that you can use to make it easier.

First, do no harm. The worst thing that you can do upon receiving constructive feedback is to blow up at the person giving it to you. This will likely discourage them from saying anything even remotely negative to you again because they won’t want to deal with your response; worse, it could lower their opinion of you and earn you the reputation of someone who doesn’t respond well to criticism.

Instead, swallow your pride and keep those initial reactions to yourself because they’re likely to be laced with hurt feelings and defensiveness. Your goal should be to keep calm and listen to what the other person is saying so you can understand what they mean and where it’s coming from. If they press you for a reaction, say that you’re just trying to listen; or, if you feel comfortable doing so without getting emotional, ask them questions.

Ask for clarification. Why is asking for clarification important? Two reasons.

First, because it can genuinely help you to understand more about the feedback and how to improve in the future. Maybe you were told that you’re not good at communicating, but what they really meant was that you have trouble looking people in the eyes when talking to them. In rough terms, both mean the same thing, but for you to fix the problem, understanding the specific complaint matters, and people aren’t always clear the first time around.

Second, by asking the person to clarify, it shows them that you were listening and are willing to take their feedback and learn from it. Even if you ultimately end up feeling like the feedback itself isn’t helpful to you, simply showing your willingness to understand and take action usually impresses people.

See feedback as valuable data that you’re collecting. I use the word data because your goal should be to remove your emotional self from the equation as much as possible so you can take the information in logically and rationally, like Mr. Spock or a computer. Data is neither good nor bad in and of itself; it is merely information to give you a more complete picture of something: “Oh, these clothes I’m wearing are completely inappropriate? Thank you for telling me.” Now that you know that the person providing the feedback thinks that you can file it away as potentially useful knowledge. Whether or not (and how) you act on that information comes into play with the next tip.

Sift through the data to find what’s useful. I’m going to say something shocking: not all feedback is useful. In the same way that it can be hard to receive feedback and control your emotions, giving constructive criticism can be difficult too. Sometimes the people offering “advice” simply don’t know what they are talking about, and sometimes they can let their emotions get the best of them just like you can.

The important thing for you, though, is to calmly accept whatever anyone tells you (within reason), thank them for their thoughts, and walk away. Once you’re by yourself, don’t ignore what they’ve said; even if your initial reaction is that it’s the silliest thing you’ve ever heard, understand that their feedback came from some specific negative feeling they got about you and try to figure out what the “note behind the note” really is. It’s possible that, after careful consideration, you’ll still come to the conclusion that they don’t know what they’re talking about, but going through the process is what’s important.

And no matter what, make sure you keep their feedback in mind by filing it away. What sounds crazy coming from one person may seem a lot more reasonable after you hear it from three, four, five, or more people.

Make a change. Once you’ve come upon some feedback that you believe is valuable, the next step is to set goals for yourself on how to change, and follow through with actions. If you are able to exhibit positive growth by improving at something that you received negative feedback on, it will go a long way toward making you a better person – and impressing the person who gave you the feedback in the first place.

About the Author:

Patrick Del Rosario is a Filipino business and career ninja. He works at Open Colleges, which focuses on Online education in Australia, as well as human resources courses. Aside from blogging and being a business ninja, Patrick is an aspiring photographer. If you want to feature his writings on your site, connect with him at Google+ or drop a line at patrick (at) oc.edu.au.

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