How to Respond to Negative Feedback Professionally

Receiving feedback can be uncomfortable, especially if it is negative. Here's the best way to respond to negative feedback.

By Hannah Ross  •   October 6, 2021  •   7 min read

Feedback is a key driver of performance and north star when it comes to leadership effectiveness. Negative feedback in particular can be extremely valuable because it allows you to track your performance and make calculated adjustments that may result in positive feedback or positive reviews in the future. 

According to Harvard Business Review, leaders that prioritize asking for critical or negative feedback are seen as more effective by their superiors, employers, and peers whereas those who seek primarily positive feedback are ranked much lower in effectiveness.

How to respond to negative feedback like a pro

Have you always wondered how you can respond to negative feedback professionally? These steps will help you move forward so you can learn how to respond to negative feedback while embracing change and prioritizing growth:

1 Don’t rush to react, be an active listener

The most important part of addressing negative feedback is to actively listen before you engage in conversation. Before you can engage in a positive conversation you have to step back and make sure that you’re taking the time to fully understand what’s being said. It can be difficult to understand someone else’s perspective, especially if you don’t agree with what they’re saying. When you take the time to explore the bigger picture, it helps you gain a better understanding of the scenario so you can view the feedback through the proper lens.

It can be extremely difficult to provide someone with negative feedback so it’s important to be patient and understanding until they have finished voicing their concerns. Before you can respond to negative feedback, you have to actively listen and engage intently in the conversation. 

Turn feedback into an opportunity

Use a tool like Fellow to discuss feedback in your 1-on-1 and ensure all attendees have a clear understanding of next steps.

Employee feedback app

2 Be appreciative, thank the other person for their feedback 

This step may be difficult for some, especially if you’ve just received negative feedback but regardless, it’s extremely important to have a positive impact and say thank you. After you’ve finished actively listening, take the time to look the person in the eye and thank them for sharing their thoughts. Be confident and genuine in your approach. Let them know that you really appreciate them taking the time to provide you with concrete facts, even if it wasn’t positive feedback.

Thanking your coworker or manager for reviewing your performance and providing you with feedback doesn’t mean you have to agree with the assessment, but it does exude professionalism. If you get defensive or argue with their feedback, they may not be inclined to share negative or positive feedback with you in the future which could be detrimental to your career trajectory. 

3 Be genuine, apologize if it’s necessary 

If someone has taken the time to meet with you and address their concerns or if a customer has left feedback or a bad review that negatively impacts the business owner or local business, it’s important that you respond to these negative reviews with a sincere apology. When you take responsibility and offer a sincere apology you can convert the person that is posting negative feedback into a loyal customer or brand advocate that may be willing to post a positive review or provide positive feedback in the future. 

If you’re personally receiving negative feedback from your manager, it’s equally as important to apologize if you feel as though you’re at fault. Taking accountability for your actions demonstrates trust and creates a sense of dependability. 

4 Summarize the feedback 

Summarizing is a very important skill for an effective communicator. A great summary will ensure that both parties are on the same page. Summarizing the feedback that you’ve received will make communication more efficient, while making sure highlights and action items are identified and ready to leverage when it’s time for you to take action.  

Varying perspectives are a real possibility when two parties are communicating meaning it’s imperative to gain a clear understanding of what your coworker or manager is really saying when they are providing you with feedback. An important part of thoroughly understanding information is being able to summarize it. Use this time to sort out the facts and hammer out the nitty-gritty details so you have what you need when it’s time to make improvements. 

5 Take action and make a positive impact 

Awareness is useless without action, and you have the power to turn any negative feedback you receive into a learning experience that can later be translated to positive feedback. Creating a plan that addresses the feedback you want to work on is a great way to stay on track and remain accountable. If you can’t approach your coworker or manager for guidance, consider working with a career coach or seeking a mentor within your network. 

You can’t thrive if you’re not willing to take responsibility and put in the work. If you don’t fully embrace your new journey, you won’t be successful and you won’t be in the proper mindset that allows you to make growth a priority. As soon as you’re ready to take action, you will be able to respond to negative reviews and make a positive impact.

6 Seek additional feedback, follow up and circle back 

Nothing says “I heard you, and I’m ready to make a change” like taking action. Working on the areas of concern that someone has identified while providing you with negative feedback and circling back with them to see how it’s going from their perspective is a great way to build trust and rapport. The way you respond to negative feedback or negative reviews says a lot about you and demonstrating perseverance is a great way to turn your negative feedback into positive feedback. 

After you’ve summarized the feedback that you’ve received and begun to take action, you can then begin to formulate a relationship that will allow you to proactively seek additional feedback. If you’re working towards resolving a larger issue that may be a long-term work-in-progress, you may want to ask additional questions or book a follow-up meeting with the main stakeholders to discuss next steps

7 Receive feedback with a growth mindset 

Having a growth mindset is key, especially when it comes to embracing a new concept, or running with constructive feedback. Having a growth mindset means that you view feedback as a gift because you know that you can always improve and gain new skills. You aren’t hindered by negative self-talk or the inability to embrace change because you understand the importance of prioritizing growth—even if it means swallowing your pride and embracing new challenges. 

Those that possess a growth mindset are much more likely to be successful when compared to those who possess a fixed mindset because having a growth mindset means you’re in the driver’s seat. Understanding that you have the power and ability to learn and improve on a daily basis is an important part of resolving negative feedback and should be the key driver of your performance. 

8 Empathize with the feedback giver

Receiving negative feedback is tough but being on the opposite end of the spectrum and providing negative feedback is equally as hard. Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news and providing negative feedback can be extremely uncomfortable for both parties, including the business owner. Empathizing with the person that is providing you with the negative feedback and understanding that they are in a position to help you and not hinder you is crucial.

It can be challenging to receive criticism or negative feedback from a coworker or manager but it’s important to remember that the benefits of receiving feedback far outweigh the bad. When delivered effectively, receiving feedback can help you meet or even exceed the expectations that your manager has defined for you. Acting on feedback will also help you advance in your career, improve your skills, add tools to your toolbelt, and strengthen working relationships within your organization. 

Seek feedback and make improvements often 

Knowing how to respond to negative feedback can be difficult, especially when you take it personally or view it as criticism as opposed to an opportunity to prioritize growth and learn new skills. Responding to negative feedback professionally will demonstrate to your manager that you have what it takes to improve and be a top performer within your organization. 

Seek feedback and seek it often. The only way to prioritize growth is to constantly seek ways in which you can improve and seeking feedback is a great starting point. Make it a habit to check in with people in your network frequently. If you’re eager to gain specific feedback, check in with your manager, team lead, or coworkers. Checking in frequently and asking specific questions will help you get the feedback you need in microdoses. Instead of letting any potential issues fester, you can get ahead of the curve by being proactive and making small improvements frequently. 

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