We all receive negative criticism from time to time. Whether it's our boss, peers, subordinates, customers, spouse, bloggers or professional reviewers, someone is bound to tell us what we might have done better.
How do you take it? Are you able to turn negative feedback to your advantage, or does it cause you to end up on the witness stand like this poor soul? First 'don't do': don't kill the messenger.
There are plenty of ways to make a bad situation out of negative feedback. Mike Sansone, for example, has apparently been holding weekly workshops at his local Panera. But checkout his response when that shop reacted badly to negative criticism. So, there's our second 'don't do': don't ignore the feedback.
I try my best to notice my emotions first, before I go about responding to feedback. Most of us will probably begin by feeling denial. We might think, "He just doesn't understand," or, "He isn't really qualified to judge me or my idea." Get over it!
Once we get past that, we are likely to be angry. The fellow in the cartoon obviously never got past that step. We might think something like, "How dare she presume to pass judgment on my artistic masterpiece." Get over it!
Next might be bargaining. If a blogger was the source of our discomfort, we might email that blogger and see if we can talk him or bribe him into writing something nice about us. Don't do it! Get over it!
The last negative emotion we are likely to feel is depression. We might think, "She's so right. I'm such a lousy writer. And a lousy person. Nobody loves me and they never will." Get over it!
All of us go through these emotions. The trick is to recognize them and get through them quickly. When I get a piece of "constructive" feedback from my boss, for example, I'll often see myself race through these emotions in less than a minute. That gets me quickly on to doing something positive with the feedback.
Once you get to the point where you are ready to do something about it, here's what you can do.
- Listen to the feedback carefully. Ask questions to clarify. What is the root problem? How does it impact on the person who is giving your feedback, or on your customers? Does the feedback describe a root problem, or a symptom? To get at that, practice using the word "therefore," as in, "Bill is worried about whether my web-based tool will still be operational in a year, therefore he is reluctant to trust his problem to my site." Here the root problem might be customer reluctance to trust my site, which has several causes. Bill's expressed concern is only one of those causes. Seek to find the kernels of truth in every bit of feedback. Even if 90 percent of the feedback seems wrong, I bet you can find ten percent that will help you be a better employee or produce a better product.
- Acknowledge the feedback. Paraphrase to be sure you understand. Express your appreciation for the feedback. Feedback takes work. People do it because they care about you and your product. When they have given you that gift, be sure they know how much you appreciate it. Say thanks.
- Go away and think about what the feedback means. Use "therefore" to be sure you are working on the true problem, then use five whys to find the root cause. Develop solutions and an action plan. Own the problem and fix it.
- Share your action plan with the person who gave you the feedback. If the feedback was given publicly (in a blog, for example), consider sharing the action plan publicly. For me, the real payback from giving feedback to someone comes when they do something with that feedback. Showing me the action plan, and then executing it, is the best way to give me that payback.
- Finally, step back figure out what you learned from the problem and share it throughout your organization.
four five steps will get you back in control of your destiny and enhance your relationship with the giver of the feedback.
[For a great article on how to deal with a blogger's criticism of your brand, check out this one by Abram Sauer.]
[Update: corrected number of steps in the last sentence.]