Ali walked off the court and into the locker room with her head low. When she came out of the locker room, her mentor, Mallory was waiting on her. Ali was in the middle of her sophomore season playing college basketball and Mallory had graduated the previous year. Ali arrived on campus for workouts the summer before her freshman year and Mallory, a rising senior was assigned to mentor the rising star. Recognizing Ali’s tremendous potential, Mallory continued to mentor Ali even though Mallory had graduated and started her own career.
Ali was one of those rare players that showed early signs that she might have the talent to make it to the next level and play in the WNBA. She had the footwork, ball handling skills, shooting ability and even the size needed to be a really special player. Only one thing seemed to stand between Ali and star-level success. She struggled to accept and apply feedback. Mallory knew immediately that Coach Ralston had given Ali a heavy dose and she was not productively managing it.
This happens every day in the workplace, too. Rising stars who have the talent and skills to rise to the top of the profession are derailed because they are unable to receive feedback and positively apply it to improve performance. Effectively provided feedback is a gift, but sometimes, the recipient missed the opportunity that it provides.
If you work long enough, you will eventually receive some kind of negative feedback. None of us are perfect. It is likely that the negative feedback will fall in the range between being so vague you have to read between the lines to find the intent and so harsh that you have to survive the shock. Your ability to successfully grow a career can depend on your ability to receive, process, and respond to negative feedback.
How to Respond to Negative Feedback
The following steps will help you receive and respond appropriately to negative feedback:
- Don’t just listen but hear what the person giving you feedback is really saying. Don’t interrupt; allow them to provide the feedback. It can be very difficult to provide someone negative feedback. Take notes of questions you want to ask, but allow the person to finish before saying anything.
- Don’t feel compelled to respond immediately. If you feel overly emotional, hurt, or angry, take some time to think about the feedback and come back at another time to go more in depth. Recognize your emotions and avoid venting to coworkers or, even worse, on social media. Such actions can wreck your career.
- Ask clarifying questions. If you don’t understand, ask for examples. Be sure to ask in a way that does not sound defensive but is a genuine desire to comprehend. A good way to start is, “tell me more about . . .”
- As you begin to understand, make affirming statements. For example, you might say, “I understand the expectation better” or “Your feedback provides me more clarity.”
- Don’t make excuses. Focus less on why you did what you did and more on what you will change going forward. Even say out loud, “going forward, I will try to . . .” to confirm that you understand expectations.
- Thank the person for being a truth teller. Truth tellers are gold in your professional life. If you are fortunate enough to find one, thank them in person and in a follow-up note.
- Validate the feedback. Share the feedback with your most trusted advisors and mentors and ask them to help you process it. They can help you overcome the emotionalism and move on to resolution.
- Make the changes you can and move on. Do not wallow in negative feedback. The value in critical feedback is to enable you to make changes to be successful. Do not make it more than it is. Often times, people are actually recognized more for the performance adjustments they make than for their performance in areas of natural ability. Adaptability and resilience are important leadership capabilities and are often identified in adversity.
Mallory helped Ali digest Coach Ralston’s feedback and understand that the feedback was not personal, but instead represented a genuine interest in Ali’s improvement. The primary motivation was the desire for the team to win, but Coach Ralston was also invested in Ali’s success so that she could have a brighter future, too.
Anyone who wants to keep a job and grow a career will face negative feedback at one time or another. The most successful people understand how to receive it and respond to it in productive ways. They understand that knowing the truth is the only way to improve, and they are thankful for the truth tellers.