How to turn negative feedback into a positive

The correct handling of criticism in the workplace can lead to an improvement in your performance

Negative feedback at work can make you feel stressed, frustrated, even intimidated. But if you can turn such feedback into a positive, it could be the key to your future success at work as well as in your personal life.
Sort out the good from the bad
To start with, it’s important to compartmentalise criticism. Not all criticism is valid or even fair, advises Anna Percy-Davis, an independent executive and career coach. The workplace can be a high-pressure environment and emotions often run high, while jealousy and insecurities do surface. It’s important, therefore, to understand the difference between constructive and destructive criticism. 

Speaking to 'Get the gloss', a blog specialising in health, beauty and careers, Percy-Davis says: “If you feel the feedback is unfair and unjustified, you need to look at why the person would say such a thing. (Are they threatened by you or just in a dark space themselves?) However, you need to be really honest here too – if you are at all unsure you need to check it out with colleagues you like and trust. If there is a grain of truth in the feedback, start tweaking your behaviour.”

Author, speaker and media commentator Margie Warrell concurs. In an article for Forbes, she says: “What you need to decide is how much authority you want to give to the person who has criticised you to begin with. If, for example, it’s your boss or someone you know well in your team, you need to hear them out.” 

Warrell says that some forms of criticism can be disregarded: “All criticism is not created equal. Some of it is invaluable and comes from a genuine concern to help you in some way, and some of it should be taken with a grain of salt.”Act on valid criticism
If the criticism seems valid and comes from a genuine desire to help you correct aspects of your performance, then it’s time to face up to it. It’s important to realise that constructive criticism isn’t personal. As Percy-Davis, who has a background working in investment banking and fund management, notes: “Don't fall into the trap of over-personalising the feedback – negative feedback is generally about a behaviour or action that you are or are not doing, it is not about you the person, so focus on changing the behaviour, not you the person.”

Following up on criticism and acting to address where you’ve been going wrong also shows real proactiveness and that you’ve taken it on board. Melody J. Wilding is a performance coach whose clients include managers and leaders from Google, Facebook, HP and Deloitte. Writing for online career service 'The muse', she advises that “the way you receive and respond to [criticism] will go a long way in being seen as a confident, competent, professional (or not).” 

Although it’s important not to come across as instantly reactive or seeking to explain away every criticism, Jessie Cohen, director of professional services at digital marketing company Creator, believes that deconstructing your feedback with questions is a smart tactic. Writing for WeWork, she says: “To show that you’re not only listening but also dealing with criticism in a constructive, worthwhile manner, talk to your boss about the situations she or he addresses. Ask for specific examples regarding your mistakes and performance. Go a step further and ask for advice about how to correctly perform the task.”
See criticism as an opportunity for improvement
Percy-Davis advises that constructive negative feedback should be viewed as a chance to improve the quality of your work. “Really use any negative feedback as an opportunity – if you are doing (or not doing) something, then be grateful that someone has pointed it out to you as there is every chance if you continue without making the necessary changes, you will probably limit your career progression,” she explains. Thanking your critic for their feedback will also help pave the way for a better working relationship in the future.

Cohen makes an important point when she argues that being willing to accept criticism as well as praise is vital to your workplace self-development. After all, “if you’re willing to accept praise, then you have to listen to your weaknesses”. Allison Abrams, author and licensed psychotherapist, agrees with such a view in an article for Psychology Today: “Constructive criticism is healthy and, in many situations, necessary. If we don’t know what our weaknesses are, how will we ever grow or change?”
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Published: 21 Sep 2018
  • Career Development
  • The Review
  • criticism
  • Career advice

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