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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Respond to Negative Feedback in (Almost) Any Possible Scenario

Wouldn’t it be awesome if the only feedback we got from our co-workers and bosses was glowing? Unfortunately, for most of us, feedback is a pretty equal mix of positive and negative. With the good also comes the “Here’s what I’d like to see you improve upon…”

While it’s unlikely you’ll ever get away from criticism (constructive or otherwise), you can change the way to respond to it. And your response will have a huge impact not only on your reputation, but also your overall morale.

Check out these ways to graciously accept it:

If You Made a Mistake

Say, “Thank you so much for pointing that out. I’m going to [fix that error immediately/do things differently going forward/adjust my work accordingly].”

When you’ve messed up, it’s important to show humility, while also demonstrating how you’ll learn from your slip.

If You’re Not Sure She’s Right

Say, “You raise some really interesting points, and I’ll definitely take them into consideration. I appreciate your help!”

You definitely don’t want to brush the person off, but you also don’t want to commit to a change or action you don’t believe in. This response is polite and appreciative without forcing you to make any promises. Also if it turns out she is right, you won’t have to apologize later on for steamrolling over her feedback.

Note: You probably don’t want to use this one with anyone who’s superior to you. Instead, go with: “I hadn’t thought of that, and I’m going to look into it right away.”

If He’s Not Being Clear

Say, “That’s a great observation, and I’d like to get some clarification. Can you please give me an example?”

Rather than attacking the person for his vagueness—which isn’t productive—gently press him for more details.

If She’s Upset

Say, “I’m so sorry you’re not happy. Would changing [X] improve the issue?”

While acknowledging her emotions is a good start, it’s not enough. For a productive response, you need to provide a solution.

If He’s Also Said Something Nice

Say, “Wow, that was a great mix of praise and constructive criticism. I’m glad you liked [X and Y], and I’ll incorporate your feedback on [W and X].”

You don’t want to make it seem like you’ve focused on the negative feedback to the exclusion of the positive. Plus, this response shows you were really listening.

If She’s Being Nitpicky

Say, “You’re so good at those little details, and I need to be better about that. Thanks for the reminder to [quadruple-check my numbers/properly space the margins/change the background color].”

Because calling the person out for being anal isn’t helpful.

If He Was Super Harsh

Say, “Thank you for your feedback. I definitely have a clear idea of what went wrong in this situation. Do you have any suggestions for some overall changes I can make?”

Usually, really harsh criticism means there’s a bigger issue than a couple mistakes on this single project. Use this reply to get to the root of the issue.

If it Was Partly Her Fault

Say, “Your notes have given me a lot of ideas for improvement. I was a little confused on [X]—when we spoke on Friday, you suggested giving the client five options, not 10.”

Make sure that you present the miscommunication or mistake as non-judgmentally as possible; you don’t want to make this person defensive. And if the slip-up wasn’t a big deal, consider not mentioning it at all and simply saying, “Thank you for your recommendations. I’ll make those changes!”

While respond constructive criticism may never be easy, these replies will make it much simpler.

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