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How to handle negative feedback

We’ll start by stating the obvious: it’s not in human nature to take a bad remark lightly.

The simple thought of someone criticizing something we’ve said or done makes our blood pressure go up and hot steam of anger pop out of our ears.

The impact is even bigger when the edgy comment comes from someone we care about, someone we’ve been striving to impress or, in general, from someone whose opinion is quite important to us.

So what do you do when the dreadful “You did it wrong!” gets thrown in your face?

Well, the first instinct is to hit them hard with a baseball bat, not before presenting them with an impressive set of all the explicit signs and bad words your momma’ (n)ever taught you.

But the humankind is also about evolution and improvement, and learning how to deal with negative feedback in a constructive way is part of the process.

We’re not specialists in anger management, but here’s what seems to work for us as a (way) better alternative to ruining someone’s perfectly good teeth:

Step 1: CTFD

For those not familiar with this beneficial term, CTFD is short for Calm The Fuck Down.

Okay, so that happened. You probably worked really hard on a task or project, then someone from your trust circle slips a bad remark about your results.

Calm down, no one died (unless, of course, your task was to keep a person connected to a life support machine). You’re not the first nor the last living creature to ever receive the “NO!” stamp on something that apparently looked like a pretty good job.

So instead of bursting into flames, take a deep breath and let it pass you by without any major damage. Count to 10 (whoa, slow down a little!), bite your tongue if you must, or walk out of the room for a few minutes if you feel the rage closing in. Be aware that making a scene over a negative observation could cause you to burn a bridge which might be very difficult to reconstruct afterward.

As hard as it may seem, calming the fuck down is a necessary step if you want to keep your moral, social or professional integrity, your friends, or even your job. Remember that what has been said cannot be unsaid, so take a few seconds before letting any “mad dog” rush out of your mouth.

Step 2: Speak up

Let’s face it, some people are really bad at giving feedback. Maybe their intentions are good but they fail to put too much thought into their words. Or maybe not, and they’re just one of those jackasses who always have an opinion or a better suggestion about everything (we all know that one guy, don’t we?).

If you’re more of a vocal kind, feel free to throw in a few reasons why you consider the feedback to be invalid. Just choose the proper tone of voice and words and also be careful not to make it sound like an excuse.

Be open and clear when listing your motives, don’t give the impression that you’re a cry-baby who can’t handle criticism. Unless it’s something you really did wrong, a few smart arguments will point out why you believe your way is the right way.

Step 3: Process the information

Now that things have cooled off a little, you have a clearer vision on what has happened. If the negative feedback came from someone who you consider to be a rational, practical thinker, it’s time to forget about the bad taste you were left with and start thinking from the other’s point of view.

You may or may not reach the conclusion that the bitter observation was indeed justified, but once a problem arises it’s important to look at it from all angles. Try not to fall into the trap of believing you’re always right and don’t let your ego ride your judgment either.

Instead, ask yourself this one question: “If I were X (where X is the monster that hurt your feelings, and they must’ve been hurt or otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation), why would I react like that?”

Running an objective analysis can have a positive impact on your personal development. You’ve known X for a while, you probably give a sh*t about what he/ she says, and you must know a thing or two about how their mind works.

So, standing in X’s shoes, what would determine you to give that kind of feedback to someone? Be completely honest with yourself when answering this question and you might be surprised to discover there is some truth to X’s words.

Step 4: Fix your mistakes

If you do conclude that the negative feedback was relevant, proceed to correct your errors. After all, why go through all that struggle if nothing good comes out of it?

If you wanna’ get it right all the way, tell your critic that their feedback was of good use and let them know you appreciated their intervention.

Last, but not least, if you didn’t manage to CTFD earlier before, now would be a great time to apologize for your little nervous discharge and any side effects that came along with it. And don’t be afraid to show some vulnerability every now and then. Admitting to your mistakes is an act of maturity that will get you way further in life than grudge ever will.

Step 5: Review your own feedback pattern

As a last piece of advice, take some time to analyze your personal feedback strategy. If the negative feedback you once received made you feel really bad, maybe you wanna’ reconsider the way you express your opinion about someone else’s work from now on.

There are a few universally-accepted guidelines to giving constructive feedback, so as long as you stick to them you (and your teeth) should be just fine:

  • keep a positive tone – before opening your mouth, you need to emanate positivity through all your pores. Show that you are well intended by being open and serene. Smile, pay attention to your body language and avoid saying anything that could make you sound superior.
  • start with a good remark – and by “good remark” we don’t mean treat them like children and use a silly line such as: “Weeell done, look at you!”. Start by pointing out one or more aspects that highlight a clear achievement so that the other person understands what you appreciate about their work.
  • put some essence into your words – don’t give lectures and don’t generalize. Constructive feedback is down to the point, short and clear. List the things you consider can be improved and give some explanation to support your point of view.
  • speak from your experience – good feedback if even more valuable if you’ve been there yourself. That means you know the struggle and you can also lend a helping hand on solving the problem.
  • ask for feedback to your feedback – it’s the best way to make sure you were understood correctly and no (unnecessary) harm was done. Turn your feedback into a conversation rather than carry a monologue. Let your interlocutor express their opinion on what you just said and only end the dialogue when you’re convinced all things are clear.

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There is no complicated philosophy behind giving or receiving constructive feedback. Common sense and moderation are key to any successful observation, as long as it helps improve one’s performance. We must accept that people have different perspectives about things and the wisest thing we can do is to listen to everyone’s opinion and extract what’s best from it.

Authors: Vlad Diaconu, Andreea Mares

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