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Don't Let Negative Feedback Derail You

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Turn on-the-job pain into positive.

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Whether it's a bad performance review or an unexpected scolding from the boss, negative feedback hits workers squarely in the ego.

It's never easy to hear that something is wrong with your work, your behavior, or both. And maybe the criticism is unwarranted or unfair. But becoming angry or argumentative, which many people do, will only make matters worse.

Career consultants say there are ways to deal calmly with negative comments from the boss, and to turn painful feedback into a positive for your job and your career.

Put Your Emotions on Hold


When most people get negative feedback, their immediate reaction is to protect or defend themselves, said BJ Gallagher, a workplace consultant and author of It's Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been. Workers want to prove the bosses wrong and convince them how hard they really work.

The key is to avoid those emotions, Gallagher said. Going on the defensive will only make you look uncooperative, get your boss angry, and you won't get anything accomplished.

Instead, Gallagher recommended "throwing a circuit breaker" on your emotions and coming into any meeting with the intent to learn.

Step-By-Step Suggestions

Keeping some of these recommendations in mind will help you get through the difficult period after the feedback lands.

  • Try to just take in the information. But do ask yourself, "Is this true? Am I doing something I'm not aware of? Or is the boss just in a bad mood?"

  • Ask questions. Make sure your boss gives you examples of the times when your performance wasn't up to par. Rumors fly in offices, and the feedback may not necessarily be accurate. If the boss says he or she hears that you're frequently late or have a negative attitude toward certain tasks, ask for specific instances.

    But even if the boss can't give you details, don't dismiss the feedback out of hand. Think of ways you can make the situation better.

  • Say thank you. It may sound trite, Gallagher said, but "a complaint is really a gift."

    "It means [the boss] still cares enough to tell you how to improve," she said. "Negative feedback is better than no feedback."

  • Give your boss a "mission statement" that shows your commitment to improving your performance, recommends Joseph Grenny, author of Crucial Confrontations. Say what you'll do to resolve the problems with your work.

  • Schedule another meeting. Asking for a chance to review your work again shows initiative and lets the boss know you want to do better.

    More importantly, though, the next sit-down will give the boss a chance to see that your work or attitude has improved. All too often, Grenny said, bosses hold on to negative thoughts about an employee although the worker is doing better.


Formal Reviews

"A performance review is everybody's worst headache," Gallagher said. "The feedback can be painful and frustrating, even if you know it's coming."

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