Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Here's a Perfect Example of How You Should Handle Really Bad Feedback

A logo with "the muse" in white text.

You’ve worked long and hard at your job. Few people know this industry as well as you, and others are quick to praise your abilities and accomplishments.

Suddenly, the unspeakable: A well-respected colleague bluntly attacks your work, your passion. This person implies that you’ve lost more than a step, and wonders (out loud) how you could have possibly fallen so far.

How will you respond? Will you defend yourself vigorously? Maybe go on the attack, seeking well-deserved revenge?

Wait. There’s another option you may not have considered. It’s not an easy one, but I promise it will yield the best results.

Accept the criticism, and try to grow from it.

What’s EQ Got to Do With It?

When you exercise emotional intelligence, you demonstrate the ability to recognize and understand your emotions, and to use that information to guide decision-making.

Whether a successful entrepreneur or a loyal employee, criticism is never easy to take. You’ve invested blood, sweat, and sometimes tears in your work; it can be extremely difficult when someone else comes in and tears down what you’ve built.

But the truth is, criticism is often rooted in truth—even when it’s not delivered in an ideal manner. When you receive negative feedback, there are two choices: You can put your feelings aside and try to learn from the situation, or you can get angry and let emotion get the best of you. One method is proactive, the other is reactive.

Guess which one will benefit you in the long run?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m by no means excusing criticism that’s bitter or overly severe. I’ve written extensively about the need to make sure you deliver critiques constructively, and with the recipient in mind. (Not to mention the fact that sincere and authentic praise should outweigh negative feedback.)

But when we are on the receiving end of criticism, whether it’s delivered ideally or not, it’s invaluable to consider the following:

  • Putting my personal feelings aside, what can I learn from this alternate perspective?

  • Instead of focusing on the delivery, how can I use this feedback to help me or my team improve?

Thomas Keller and The New York Times

Recent events involving Thomas Keller, one of the world’s most famous chefs and restaurateurs, illustrate the preceding points perfectly.

Keller is a world-renowned chef, with fans who span the globe. He’s won various awards for his work, published multiple bestsellers, and is reportedly the only American chef to have two separate restaurants receive the ultimate recognition of three Michelin stars simultaneously.

But Pete Wells, the lead restaurant critic for The New York Times, recently made headlines when he published a harsh criticism of Keller’s New York eatery Per Se. Wells described his three dining experiences at Per Se (between fall and winter 2015) as “respectably dull at best to disappointingly flatfooted at worst.” He pulled no punches in describing dishes he sampled as “random,” “purposeless,” “rubbery,” and “flavorless.”

So how did one of the most recognized chefs and restaurant owners in the world respond to getting bashed by the same newspaper that named Per Se “the best restaurant in New York City” just four years earlier?

He apologized.

In a statement that you might describe as both humble and inspiring, Keller accepted responsibility for Per Se’s poor performance and promised improvement. (You can read Keller’s full message at the end of this post.)

Here’s an excerpt:

“We are not content resting on what we did yesterday. We believe we can do better for ourselves, our profession, and most importantly, our guests. We have the opportunity, the tools, the self-motivation, and the dedication to do so.

When we fall short, we work even harder.”

Before you dismiss Keller’s statement as insincere or a simple PR move, consider how difficult this action is in reality.

Take a slice of humble pie, accept criticism from an individual who has never been in your shoes, and apologize. (In contrast, other owners have responded in a fashion that could be described as more aggressive.)

Putting it Into Practice

So if your natural response to negative feedback is to say, “Who is he or she to criticize?” or “Man, what a jerk,” remember: You’re missing opportunities to grow.

Instead, the next time you’re on the receiving end of tough criticism, try to swallow your pride and learn from the experience.

Doing so will only make you better.

Here is Thomas Keller’s full reply, via his blog:

To our guests:

At all of our restaurants, in our kitchens and dining rooms, we make every effort to provide you with the best possible experience. We consider it our professional responsibility to ensure that every one of you feels special and cared for. To us, it is imperative that we improve and evolve every day. We constantly examine ourselves, our menu, our service, and our standards.

Regretfully, there are times when we do not meet those standards. The fact that The New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells’ dining experiences at Per Se did not live up to his expectations and to ours is greatly disappointing to me and to my team. We pride ourselves on maintaining the highest standards, but we make mistakes along the way. We are sorry we let you down.

We are not content resting on what we did yesterday. We believe we can do better for ourselves, our profession, and most importantly, our guests. We have the opportunity, the tools, the self-motivation and the dedication to do so.

When we fall short, we work even harder. We are confident that the next time you visit Per Se or any of our other restaurants, our team will deliver a most memorable experience.

Thomas Keller, Chef/Proprietor

More From Inc.

Photo of women talking courtesy of Shutterstock.