Two office colleagues conversing, referring to a piece of work on-screen

How to deal with negative feedback?

Few people can say that they truly know how to deal with negative feedback when they are working in temporary office jobs. When you are moving between work placements you have such a small amount of time to make a good impression, connect with the team and network as well as learn the ropes and produce great work, that having your efforts criticised can be difficult to hear.

For some, ignoring negative feedback altogether is the first course of action and for others challenging it head on is the way to go, rarely will you hear someone say that they embrace it and seek it out in order to learn from it. This, when you think about it, is strange considering we are in fact seeking feedback all of the time without conscious effort. 

We live in a world of instant gratification and opinion, where you can publish a post or a picture and have it celebrated or rejected by your peers in a heartbeat. Where success and popularity is calculated through followers, likes and emojis and everything we do is voluntarily put up for public scrutiny and feedback, but face to face negative feedback at work, now that feels much more personal.

Feedback is not a term we use very often when we refer to people. People use the words compliments and criticisms, good things and bad things with very little reference to a middle ground. Feedback on the other hand is a word that we generally associate with businesses. We buy something online and get invited to fill out a customer feedback survey to help them improve the service or products that they offer. 

Businesses actively seek out feedback, people generally don’t. So, when a worker is invited for a performance appraisal or an informal chat about their work, their reaction generally follows the same pattern. First of all, a panic induced stomach flip.... that is always the first no matter who you are. Second, defensive posture, third, combative reasoning/excuses, and lastly having remembered that they are working in a temporary role so why do they even care.... dismissive.

No doubt this is sounding familiar, yep for you and every other worker out there. Let’s face it, no one likes to hear that they are doing something wrong but there are 5 steps to turning negative feedback into your greatest asset: 

  1. Ask
  2. Listen
  3. Look for patterns
  4. Analyse the data
  5. Take action

Let’s look at each step in a bit more detail: 

1. Ask

The first thing we need to do to help us to deal with negative feedback at work is to open ourselves up to receiving it in the first instance.

When businesses actively seek out feedback in a customer feedback survey, in their efforts to seek public opinion they don’t do so with a fragility or trepidation as to what they may hear, they know that in order to improve they need to know what they are doing well and what they are not so they have to put their own personal fears aside.  

Be brave enough to ask for constructive feedback on your work before it is offered. Here are some questions that you could ask your line manager or boss:

  • Does my work meet your expectations?
  • How can I improve on the work I am delivering?
  • What areas of my work do you feel could benefit from additional training or study?

2. Listen

Hearing negative feedback is not easy but it is important to take the time to hear what is being said so you can use the information to your advantage. 

Flying off the handle, emotionally breaking down or even just dismissing the feedback entirely is a wasted opportunity to improve, and career development is all about improvement so brush up on your active listening skills and start to take in what is really being said. 

3. Look for patterns

Whether we are receiving unsolicited negative feedback or constructive feedback resulting from questioning it is a good idea to look at it objectively in the first instance.

Continuing with when a business actively seeks out feedback in a customer feedback survey, it is important to remember that a retailer does not just take one opinion and believe it to be true, the idea of a survey is to get a cross section of opinions and reinforce it with research. It takes more than one person’s opinion to make a business act and change their course. 

We too should seek more information before accepting the feedback as truth. Funnily enough, most of us already do this with positive feedback. Sadly, most of us will hear a compliment and dismiss it in the first instance, it is in our nature to be less susceptible to believing good things than we are to hear bad things. Yet, if we are so fast to dismiss a compliment as false why are we so quick to accept a criticism as truth. 

How do we look for patterns? If for example, your attitude to work is the topic of the negative feedback, start by thinking back to other work placements, have you been told this before or is it a new and unique isolated opinion? 

If it is a new piece of feedback then taking it with a hint of scepticism is a good idea, it could simply stem from a personality clash, or your boss/the person giving this feedback could just be having a bad day so don’t take it to heart immediately. Leaving it a day or two and approaching your boss/this person again for a more detailed discussion could reveal that it is not as bad as you initially thought. If their opinion has not changed you will still probably find that they have a more constructive way of explaining things after a day or two. 

If it is something you have heard before from other sources, then some action needs to be taken to rectify the problem. Before you can take action however, you need to work out what the cause of the issue might be. 

4. Analysing the data

Sticking with the "poor attitude to work" feedback example, if you have heard it before or even if you haven't but you suspect it might be true, you are going to need to ask yourself some questions to get to the root of the issue.

Some questions you might ask yourself are:

  • Could it be due to a lack of training?
  • Are you struggling due to a lack of essential skills?
  • Do you lack enthusiasm for the industry?
  • Do you dislike the work you are doing?
  • Do you dislike your boss or a colleague?
  • Are you lacking confidence in your abilities?
  • Do you have unreasonable expectations of what it means to be successful in your work?
  • Are you struggling to balance work and home?
  • Is there something going on at home that is affecting your working ability, attitude or concentration levels?

There could be a whole heap of possible reasons that far exceed this list, but they are a good starting point for you to begin with.

5. Take action

Now that you have spent some time reflecting on the negative feedback and getting to the source of the issue it is time to take some decisive action to put things right.

Finding ways to solve the problem at the root is a longer term and more sustainable approach than simply deciding to work faster and harder to please your boss. If you don’t work on the cause of the issue, then before you know it you could find yourself back in the same position in the not too distant future.

5 great resources for personal development:

  1. Brush up on your skills to ensure you have all of the tools to succeed in your work.
  2. If where you work is the issue, look for a new temporary work placement. Check out our list of office jobs
  3. If you dislike the work you are doing consider trying your hand at some different roles within your industry. If you are a naturally bubbly people person you could try your hand at being a Customer Service Advisor. If you have a keen eye for detail perhaps a job as an Administrator is for you.
  4. If you are lacking confidence in your abilities check out this post all about making comparisons.
  5. If you are struggling to balance your work and home life check out these posts for some inspiration and actionable insights. 5 working life hacks & 10 bonus quick fix life hacks and 8 steps to achieving work/life balance.

With so many resources available and opportunities to turn negative feedback into constructive criticism, hearing the words “can we have a chat” from your boss should no longer fill you with dread but instead, confidence.

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