We’ve all been there: we get our boss to review a report that we’ve done. We get some glowing notes back and then one comment that we really need to fix one section because it’s not up to snuff. That comment sticks with us every time we think of that report. 

Or we’ve gone into a performance review and when getting feedback ignore the 10 great things that were said and instead focuse on the two “areas for improvement”.

I used to think I was the only one that would hold onto negative feedback and let it swirl around in my brain until I’d convinced myself that I was below average at my job and my boss hated me. Feeling like this sucks and it keeps us from being able to hear the comment for what it is, without letting it bring us down. 

How do we deal with the emotional side of getting negative feedback?

I’ve since learned it’s not just me that struggles with this feeling and there are some things we can do to make sure the constructive criticism that is supposed to help us grow and improve, does just that.

Understand where this feeling comes from

There actually is a scientific reason for why you seem to put more emphasis on the negative comments: our brain is wired that way. It’s called the “negativity bias“. Your brain is more sensitive to unpleasant news. Researchers believe that the negativity bias was created to help keep us safe back in the day, which is all well and good when we were fighting for survival back in our hunter-gatherer days.

But now that this negativity bias is messing with your confidence at work? Not really the best use of your brain mechanism. Understanding that this happens and why it happens, is the best first place to start.

Anytime you feel yourself obsessing over the negative feedback you’ve received, stop and identify that it was just one part of the conversation that you had and your brain is blowing it out of proportion.

Deconstruct the feedback

Have you ever noticed that as time passes and you continue remembering a certain event, some details seem to get exaggerated? (think: “that fish that got away was as big as the boat!”).

That is exactly what you don’t want to happen with the feedback you receive. Over time the comment “you need to be more assertive during team meetings” can turn into “I never speak up and the things that I add to the conversation aren’t helpful.”

While you’re getting the feedback make sure you’re (calmly) asking for examples, so you can be really clear on where exactly you can improve. If you’re getting the feedback that you need to be more assertive during team meetings, ask for specific examples of where you didn’t do that. Getting more context for the comment will help it from spiraling into the something it shouldn’t be.

Write down what was really said

Another tactic to help you remember what was said, rather than letting comments spiral out of control, is to write down the comments after the meeting. When you write it down, stay away from emotional phrases or any negative self-talk that you’re likely to add in. Stick to the comment they made and the specific examples they gave you.

Don’t forget to also write down the positive comments in as much detail as the negative ones. You should be proud of the work you’ve done, even though there are improvements to make. In overcoming negativity bias, research has shown that having 5 positive moments for every 1 negative moment, can create a sustainable relationship (they specifically studied marriages). If you take that research and think of how it applies to negative and positive comments, you should strive to remember and write down 5 positive comments for every one negative comment that you receive.

End the conversation on a high note

No matter how frustrated you are (or how much you disagree with what is being said), you’ll never want to end the meeting with conflict. If you walk away with a heated exchange, you’ll both remember the heated exchange more than any point of the conversation. If you walk away feeling incredibly upset and defeated, you’ll remember that feeling more than anything else. (psst: want to know why? See the Peak-End rule)

While it won’t always be possible to steer a conversation into positive territory, you can end it in a neutral way. If you feel ready to discuss action steps from the feedback in detail at that moment, you could steer the conversation to what the next steps you can make are to actively improve.

If you need time to compose yourself or review the feedback they’ve given you, you could ask to continue the conversation at a later point but close it out in a positive way: “I really thank you for the feedback. I’d really like to work with you on ways to improve, but right now I need a little time to process this. Could we set up a time in a few days to revisit this?”

It can be really difficult to stay positive when you’ve been given negative feedback, but with a few intentional actions, you can avoid excessive negativity. The goal of the feedback is to help you grow – keep in mind that good intention.

 

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