Navigating Negative Feedback: How to fix problems and get what you want

Navigating Negative Feedback: How to fix problems and get what you want

Someone messed up. An employee mishandled a project; your new car is a lemon; the waiter forgot your meal. From big to small, problems can be solved—and often fixed—if you know to complain, and what to do next.

Handled skillfully, negative feedback can generate positive outcomes. Here’s how to make it useful, actionable and helpful.

Before you start, take a minute. Review the situation, evaluate your response, and decide what you want.

  1. Focus on facts—the kind you can observe and measure. Know what you want and don’t want. Describe those things without resorting to useless generalities.
  2. Avoid namecalling, accusations and slander. No one listens when feeling offended or defensive.
  3. Try to assume the best of people. We don’t know what loads other people carry. It’s best to start from a place of empathy.
  4. Focus on actions. What do you want to happen now?
  5. Collaborate to solve the problem. Focus on what needs to change, how to create that change, and how you will know when you’ve succeeded.

Pro Tips

  1. Describe the problem and how the listener’s actions relate to it. Be precise.
  2. Describe the outcome you want.
  3. Ask for analysis, feedback, suggestions, solutions.
  4. Listen. Listen. Keep listening.
  5. Collaborate to solve the problem.
  6. Evaluate the success of your actions.
  7. Review & refine.
  8. Repeat as necessary.


I'm a teacher and writer who aims to help others live fabulous, fulfilled lives.