7 Tips For Navigating Negative Career Feedback

iStockphoto.com |  Feodora Chiosea

iStockphoto.com | Feodora Chiosea

Nobody rolls out of bed in the morning and thinks, “I hope I get some negative feedback at work today.”

No one enjoys criticism, especially professional criticism. When we receive feedback at work, the likely reaction is a (sometimes justified) fear that the feedback is a precursor to unemployment. However, feedback – positive and negative – plays an important role in the overall success of an organization, and the personal development of the employee. The good news is that you can learn how to process and utilize negative feedback to help your career instead of inhibit it.

Corporate culture has evolved into an interactive environment with a constant feedback loop. Annual/quarterly reviews have given way to an ongoing structure that is flexible and nimble enough to resolve issues, whether company-wide or individual, in real time. That means constant feedback.

Here are some tips to demystify negative feedback, help you and your career grow, and help create better work relationships.

  1. Be open to feedback. When you walk into your manager’s office and receive professional criticism, it is very easy to get defensive. Even though the feedback is work related, it feels personal, and may seem like an existential threat to your livelihood. Do your best to be calm, objective about your own performance, and to listen. Take notes.

  2. Remember, the conversation is probably documented. Whether part of a regular scheduled review, or an unexpected performance appraisal, the results will most likely go into your personnel file. It is in your best interests to maintain a professional demeanor throughout the process.

  3. Understand your manager’s position. Chances are your Manager doesn’t like to give negative feedback any more than you like receiving it. However, providing feedback is most likely a requirement of his or her job, and is necessary if he or she has an interest in your career development. Either way, your manager should be giving you feedback, and you should want it as it provides you the tools to move your career forward.

  4. Negative feedback is an opportunity. I know what you’re thinking: “I should want negative feedback? That’s crazy talk!” Negative feedback gives you an opportunity to self-correct and to develop personally and professionally. If you are not receiving regular, valuable feedback, then request it. You need to build that loop so you will control the conversation. It is in your best interests to have reviews that are more about development, and less about performance.

  5. Understand the real message. Managers may not be trained to give feedback in a clear or positive way. The true message, for example, may be buried under a mountain of operational issues, or missed sales goals. But what does the feedback have to do with you? Ask for clarification is necessary.

  6. Perception can be reality. If a perceived issue is surfaced that you believe is off the mark, you must change the perception. Speak up in a reasonable and sensible way. Defend yourself without being defensive (easy, right?).

  7. Compartmentalize the feedback. You’ve walked out your manager’s office. Even the most enlightened employee, who is wise enough to use all our excellent suggestions, is going to feel numb. No one enjoys criticism. To the best of your ability, decompress and detach yourself from the feedback. When ready, process it in as objective a way as possible, determine (to the best of your ability) how you can use it to improve your job performance and, more importantly, advance your personal career development.


Philip Roufail contributed to this article.

Scott Singer is the President and Founder of Insider Career Strategies Resume Writing & Career Coaching, a firm dedicated to guiding job seekers and companies through the job search and hiring process. Insider Career Strategies provides resume writing, LinkedIn profile development, career coaching services, and outplacement services, including a free resume review. You can email Scott Singer at scott.singer@insidercs.com, or via the website, www.insidercareerstrategies.com.