A few weeks ago, I experienced an extreme case of an employee not being able to take negative feedback. He had been performing poorly for quite some time and he was given feedback by his manager time and again. As is usual with a person who cannot take feedback, he did not improve at all. After a few months, his boss then involved his senior manager to have a conversation with the employee. For anonymity I will call him Offendix.
This is how the conversation went :
"Offendix, you have been given feedback a multiple times about not performing well , but we see no improvement "
"I HAVE performed well. It seems everybody is out to get me !"
"No. We have shown you the data , Offendix ! It clearly proves the point !"
Offendix is silent for a moment .
"But, the data may be incorrect . I have done well on dates blah, blah m blah and for tasks blah blah, blah .. "
"You have not improved !"
"There is nothing to improve ! There is politics in the situation. No one else is being treated like this!"
All of us have experienced the situation when negative feedback is dished out to us. It is how we deal with it . Almost like looking at a glass and thinking it to be half full or half empty.
No one likes negative feedback.
And it takes a lot of maturity, positivity and experience to handle these situations. The most common reaction is of denial , just like Offendix. We might have read so many articles on how not to react, but this feeling comes almost involuntarily. We think we cannot go wrong and the other person is just showing his power and position to put us down.
But usually that is not the case.
In most of the cases, feedback is given so that we can improve.
We might not like it but the key is to listen. And, usually, when we listen, at the back of our mind we are defending ourselves and preparing for the rebuttal. We should try to listen with an open mind. Listen to what is being said . It is also a good idea to separate out facts from opinion. Offendix had been given the data from the project plan when he could not meet the deadline. He was also given the data where numerous bugs were detected in in code . These are facts ! And there can be opinions - for example - "I did not like the way you conducted the meeting " .
Another way to conduct yourself, if possible , is not to provide justification on the spot. It is always a good idea to take a bit of time and then talk to your supervisor about it . It is perfectly justified to say " I get your point . But maybe, I am getting a bit defensive. I have noted down the points. Can I talk to you tomorrow ? " This will show your maturity and it will be an indicator that you have listened to the feedback and are considering it important.
Here is where the facts and opinion data will come in handy.
You can frame questions like ,"In your opinion , I did not conduct the meeting properly . I think I started blaming Mr X . Is there anything else you can point out ? " Or " The bugs which have been marked against me, two of them were due to my negligence but the other two were due to the other changes being made " .
You will be more prepared and yes, you will be able to justify and clarify your points as well.
In my experience, mostly, it depends a lot on how the feedback is given. Most of the times , I hear things like "It is not about the feedback , but the way it was told to me ... " .
Yes, there are people in all organizations who of are egoistical and take advantage of their position, but when the feedback is being given, you should listen and not interrupt. But yes, in that case, take it with a pinch of salt or sugar ! Remember, you are a professional ! Behave like a pro !
Another point - do not take it personally. It is like if you fall sick and you go to a doctor who advises you to quit smoking. You will not like it. But you know that it is for your good.
Having said all this, one last word of caution.
Know that these only apply to constructive, well-meant criticism.
Unfair and overly negative feedback is also used as a tool by bad managers and workplace bullies to demean and control others. Though not always possible, do not put up with personal and unfair attacks at workplace.
Mind you, I have said "attacks" and not "feedback". .
We all desperately need feedback – both positive and negative.
Tell me what I do well AND tell me what I can do better.