How to Use Bad News to Your Advantage: Take Your Time, Don’t Go Into Hiding
Feedback is a gift, and these days there is plenty of it out there—from immersive company team-building exercises to Yelp and Facebook reviews, people are more vocal than ever and letting you hear about it. Multi-source feedback, one study in the journal Personnel Psychology found, can be particularly helpful when it comes to goal-setting, taking action, and improving performance.
While everyone likes to hear soothing accolades about their leadership abilities, their business insight, and their actual products, negative feedback can be equally or even more useful, noted Tasha Eurich in the Harvard Business Review, “because it allows us to monitor our performance and alerts us to important changes we need to make.”
Useful though it may be, handling the bad things people have to say about us in professional settings is not easy. According to a separate study in Personnel Psychology, it can make us angry, defensive, and so self-conscious that it impairs our subsequent effectiveness.
Learning to handle negative feedback is important, says online skills assessment company eSkill.
“Many managers and employees don’t know how to handle negative feedback, both from the giving and the receiving ends,” eSkill writer Eric Friedman said. “This can lead to a breakdown in communication, in which employees feel demoralized and demotivated, while managers feel guilty and frustrated. What’s worse, when negative criticism is misconstrued, it can easily lead to decreased productivity among employees.”
Ready to hear what people have to say? Here are some tips for taking negative feedback positively:
1 . Slow down
You may react with anger, depression or disbelief, says Eurich. What’s key is to take it slowly. Those who successfully turn criticism into improved behavior don’t pressure themselves to respond right away, but instead “gave themselves days or even weeks to bounce back from difficult feedback before deciding what to do next.”
2. Assume good intentions
Alexander Kjerulf, who researches happiness at work, recommended to Forbes that you assume those making the recommendations were not out to get you. “Remember that they’re criticizing your work, not you as a person,” he said. “Never take negative feedback about your work as a criticism of you as a person.”
3. Dig deeper
For many, said Eurich, the feedback may be completely unexpected—for example, an insecure manager being told she is arrogant and aggressive. If the intel comes out of left field, you may need more background—Eurich recommends a small feedback circle of trusted colleagues and professionals who don’t necessarily have to be close to you.
4. Apologize, then follow up with a solution
Evoking empathy can help in the face of criticism, especially if the problem was genuine oversight, career coach Emily Liou told The Muse. She recommends that you admit the problem, apologize, and then create a real plan for fixing the problem.
5. Show growth
Everyone’s had the boss who never changes—and at some point, risking yourself by giving feedback that is ignored gets old. To prevent people from simply staying silent about your flaws, make sure you show that you can accept feedback and learn from it, says eSkill. “Growing and improving from feedback lets (peers) know that you care about performing well and about moving forward with the company.” And if you can’t grow, says Eurich, then admit to that, too—after all, some character flaws are so entrenched that they are a key part of who you are.
“Sometimes the best response to critical feedback is to admit our flaws—first to ourselves, and then to others—while setting expectations for how we are likely to behave,” Eurich wrote. “When we let go of the things we cannot change, it frees up the energy to focus on changing the things we can.”
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