We know feedback is important, but when it’s negative, no matter how kindly it’s said and even if we know it isn’t intended as criticism… it hurts. Knowing where and when something isn’t working is the only way to make changes. Positive feedback feels good but doesn’t suggest any way to improve. We have to find a way to hear the negative so that we can use it.

There are occasions when we have to seek out the negative. For example, when you collaborate with a teacher and look for feedback on the lesson, asking “What did you think of it?,” chances are you will only give you platitudes. (“It was fine.” “The kids liked it.”) Asking, “What could I have done better?” “What didn’t work well?” will give you the truth. Great. Feedback you can use to improve. In these cases, you are prepared for the comments and can handle them (even if you don’t like them).

It’s harder, however, to handle feedback when you didn’t seek it. Your principal makes some negative comments about your classroom management techniques. A teacher says your attempt at using an old book to create art could use a lot of work. How do you handle it? Criticism and feedback are two sides of the same coin. Yes, the teacher comment was negative, but the point was still there. It’s your choice how to receive – and respond to it. What do you do?

Mary Kelly offers these 5 Tips to Help You Take Feedback the Right Way.

Choose to see feedback as an opportunity – Kelly says to reframe it as a positive. Not always an easy thing to do, but chances are you can find the kernel of truth in what was said. When you do, ask yourself what can you learn from it? Can you make the change on your own or is there someone who could help you do better at whatever it was? If so, this feedback could not only improve your project, but lead to additional collaboration which is a good thing.

Remember you have only your perspective – This is good to keep in mind with any difficult conversation. You don’t know what preceded the comment. People are struggling with any number of challenging and stressful situations in their lives. They could have just had an argument with someone and are still in a bad mood.

It is also worth considering your perspective. What has your day been like? If a number of little things have gone wrong, you are apt to respond more strongly and for the words to sting. We bring who and where we are to every conversation and overlook that the other person is doing the same.

Pause – And breathe. This is one of the best pieces of advice for many situations. That small moment of time allows you to reframe and think about differing perspectives. It will keep you from going on the defensive – or in some cases going on the offensive. Either response is likely to have a negative effect on the relationships you continually try to build. Taking the pause can lead to better understanding and stronger relationships going forward.

Objectively reframe your response – Kelly says how we react to criticism is a habit. This means we can learn to do it well. The truth is, we will experience it a number of times on the job – and in our personal lives. Learning better responses can improve things in a number of areas.

Think about the points the person raised. Can you see the validity of any of them? Start there. Kelly asks you to consider that you were misunderstood. It’s also possible that you misunderstood what the other person said. Seeking clarity, when necessary, can be helpful

Be kind to yourself, but do not wallow in self-pity – Always take the time to recognize your emotions. Yes, it hurt, and that reminds you that the work you’re doing matters to you, but don’t let the feedback – or criticism—be a reason to beat yourself up. We are all human. We make mistakes. We will never be perfect. If we want to keep improving, we need to be open to handling negative feedback.

Learning how to handle negative feedback is an important skill to master. It makes you a better leader because when people see they can tell you the difficult things, they trust you more. The next step? Remembering this process when you give feedback to others.


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