Taking Negative Feedback Positively

Feedback is a word most of us have heard about. And is something we have given to and also received from others, formally and informally. In fact, feedback has played a pivotal role in the development of humankind and has aided our improvement and growth. It’s no wonder that no Performance Management Training or even Managerial Skills Training is complete without it!

Now one of the biggest challenges about feedback is that most people enjoy giving it over receiving it. And that too specifically giving a lot of negative feedback to others and being shut to receiving any themselves!

So, today let’s talk about how we can get better at receiving negative feedback and use it to create a positive difference in our lives.


Negative Feedback

Why do most people dislike negative feedback so much? Because it hurts their self-esteem and ego while generating fear, anger, sadness and anxiety. Hence, they choose to block it, deny it, ignore it or escape from it.

Let’s understand why this happens. For this, we will need to dwell a little into the science of human evolution and psychology.


The Truth behind Negative Feedback

Most of us are conditioned (from childhood) to focus on doing things which bring in happiness, success and growth. This could be in form of a higher salary, bigger home, luxurious car, stronger body, better performance, etc. Situations which bring in hurt, death, failure, rejection, disease, etc. are considered bad, unpleasant, to be shunned or ignored. The result is, most humans are conditioned to accept only all that’s good and which brings in pleasure. We, therefore, as a culture, look for instant gratification. And are unable tolerate any kind of weakness, short comings, failure, etc. that come our way. This makes it difficult for us to take negative feedback in the right spirit.


Taking Negative Feedback Positively

Typically, any feedback comprises of multiple parts. Let’s understand this with an example.

Say you walked into office 15 minutes late. The moment you walk in, your boss comes out of his cabin and says “ABC you are always late and unfit for this job. If you come late once more, I will fire you.” You get taken aback with this verbal attack and choose to say nothing. You withdraw into your desk, sulking and feeling low with this insult.

Let’s look at the above conversation and what took place step wise.


  • What really happened – Observation – You came late by 15 mins
  • What your boss thought happened – Assumption – You always come late
  • What you boss thought about you as a person – Judgement – You are unfit for this job
  •  What this lead to – Perception – Since you are always late you are unfit for this job
  • What he did – Action – Telling you that if you come late once again, he will fire you
  • How you took the feedback given to you – Your Perception ?????


If we can get aware of and discriminate between these factors which come into place while receiving feedback, we can learn to take negative feedback positively.


Deciphering what’s at Play

Let’s look at how we can do so in detail.


  • Observation – What really happenedYou came 15 mins late to office.

Now this is the reality. If interpreted as it is, without attaching any assumption or judgement to it, it can be a genuine feedback producing the required change. However, when assumptions and judgements are added to it, it loses its change creating ability and instead triggers off negative reactions and emotions.

If you can, however, recognize this in time, it will firstly help resolve any negative emotions that may have got triggered and keep you from reacting. Secondly, it may also help in accepting the reality and in future being more proactive to inform your boss if you get late.


  • Assumption – What the other thought happenedYou always come late.

This is typically an assumption and may be far from reality. When we receive feedback of this type it is more of an assumption over their observation.  The way to differentiate is, that the above statement has no numbers attached to it. It may therefore not be the fact.

Our reaction to this may be a feeling of rejection, which can lead to withdrawal or an attack on the opposite person.

So, how do we deal with this?

Take a pause to settle your emotions. Now, with a cool head, ask the person giving the feedback as to how many times they have observed or noted that you came late in the past. This makes the person realize their mistake or forces them to look at the data neutrally. It also helps the person get aware about their assumption and may be take corrective action.


  • Judgement – What other thought about you- You are unfit for this job

These are based on what they think about your behaviour, which in turn are based on their beliefs about that behaviour in general! Therefore, very often their judgements have no truth supporting them.

For instance, passing a judgement that you are unfit for the job based on one late coming has no concrete truth to it. It’s more about the story they have created in their mind about the competence of individuals who come in late to office.


  • Perception – What this lead to –– Since you are always late you are unfit for this job

This is formed by the story the other is telling themselves about you in general, which creates a picture in their mind about how you are. It is fuelled by current and past events and can therefore take time to change.

Working on it, keeping a long-term perspective in mind, is therefore essential. And one that can reap great results for your working relationship and organisational success.


  • Action – What he did – Telling you that if you come late once again, he will fire you

This is of course a result of the other person’s assumption, judgement and perception about you. Once you learn how to manage the others, this will automatically get managed.


Your Perception of the Feedback

Now this depends on how aware you are about yourself, the situation and your way of looking at the feedback.

Let’s look at each of these in detail:


  • Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is based on your emotional, mental and body awareness. And governs what such feedback does to these aspects. Does it create fear, anger, sadness, etc. Or are you aware of the reactions in your mind, emotions and body which in turn can help you manage any feedback coming to you. If you are unaware of how your mind and body reacts to negative feedback, you can end up with trouble!


  • Self-Regulation

 Second, is how do you manage these thoughts, emotions and body reactions which get generated when you receive negative feedback. Most people tend to react by withdrawing or getting aggressive, while there are some that are able to settle them down and respond to the situation.

How do they do this? By taking a pause, looking within as to what is happening to them and then waiting for some time for the body and mind to settle. This pause helps them calm down from the fight and flight reaction happening within them and look at the situation neutrally.


  •  Situational Awareness

Next is awareness of what’s really happened. You have to be aware of your actions that lead to the situation. Do you really come in late every time or was it just this time. What is your attitude towards your behaviour. This will help interpreting and managing the other’s feedback in the right spirit.

It will also drive you to make amendments in your actions as well as in your attitude towards them. If you are late and have not informed your Boss, there is no harm is saying sorry. However, if you are regularly late, then it’s time for introspection!


It doesn’t End There!

You also need to help manage the other person.


  • Opposite Person’s Awareness

 It’s also important that you have a conversation with your senior about their reaction. And this is possible only if you are aware and accept that the way we are not perfect, others are also not perfect.

The key to handle this, is to get aware of the stories your mind may be creating about them and refrain from judging them. Then help them realize that they are assuming and judging over sharing facts. This will also help them get aware of their reactions and in effectively managing the situation.

You can say, “Sir, I understand your concern, however, it will be helpful if you can share on which occasions apart from this one, have I been late in the past.” This brings the opposite person closer to the facts and helps them manage their emotions and thoughts. Once the person is self-aware, you can manage them easily.


  •  Opposite Person’s Regulation

 You can also explain the reason why you were late and apologize, if necessary, for not informing them beforehand. This helps settle their anger and irritation, while releasing your emotions as well.

For being able to do this, you have to learn how to manage your perceptions about the person. A simple way I do this is, by looking at them as small kids. Kids who are throwing tantrums and can be pardoned for their behaviour!


At the end you need to have a heart-to-heart talk with the person and work towards solving the situation permanently.

So, are you ready to take negative feedback now? Or do you want a first-hand experience through a Managerial Skills Training 🙂

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