Negative Feedback: How to receive & respond to harsh responses

It’s easy to offend people—look at social media. Even if you’re not a puppy-kicking troll, chances are good that you will offend someone at least once in your life. Perhaps you purposely or accidentally did something wrong, or maybe it’s just a case of different values. In either situation you might receive negative feedback.

Receiving criticism and negative feedback can be upsetting—it’s common to feel defensive. But negative feedback can be informative and useful once you know how to accept it.

Receiving Harsh or Negative Feedback

1. Try to listen openly, with a willingness to learn. Listening isn’t prevarication—it’s a chance to learn how your words and actions affect other people, which is always useful feedback.

2. People tend to get angry when offended.  They’re offended and they’re upset that they’re offended. Depending on the person’s age and maturity, you might hear strong emotions.

3. Listen, trying not to absorb the other person’s anger. (Nothing good happens when everyone’s upset.) Ignore their emotions and focus on their words: what did they experience? 

4. Take care of yourself. Step back, give yourself time to think. If appropriate thank them for the feedback.

  • If you need time to think about what they said, say so.
  • If you’re sorry for your actions, say so.
  • If you’d like to find a solution, say so.
  • If you need more information, ask for it.
  • If you can’t think of a single thing to say or do, just say oh. Unless you’re in court, there’s no law that you have to respond. And if the person is very angry, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to listen rationally.

Later, reflect on what happened. What did you learn? Find the positive, useful information from the experience. Even if it’s only that you’ll never do that again, you have learned, and thus turned a bad experience into life experience.

Receiving Negative Feedback: 3 Tips

  1. Try to stay calm. Breathe in through your nose and relax your body.
  2. Look at the speaker. Direct eye contact is risky because it might seem aggressive, so soften your focus and try to see their whole face.
  3. Try to just listen; don’t formulate a response or get caught up in your emotions.

 

Lucinda

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Lucinda Atwood is a master teacher and coach who makes learning public speaking fun and easy. (Yes, it's possible.) She's a Communication Consultant based in beautiful Vancouver Canada.
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