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How to Handle Negative Feedback: 6 Ways to Accept Criticism

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 2, 2020 • 2 min read

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Whether you're in a performance review at work or receiving notes on a creative project, negative feedback has the potential to cause discouragement. Fortunately, with a few simple communication skills, you can learn to view negative feedback in a new light and use it as a tool for self-improvement.

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Why Is It Important to Accept Negative Feedback?

While receiving positive feedback is encouraging, receiving harsh criticism can be difficult. Even though everyone makes mistakes and has room to improve, accepting critical feedback in a positive way is still a challenge. Learning to accept negative feedback gracefully can strengthen your self-esteem, enrich your relationships, and eliminate your adverse tendencies.

Steve Martin on Getting Over Negative Feedback

6 Tips for Handling Negative Feedback

Practicing these tips in real-life situations can gradually teach you to embrace negative feedback instead of fearing it.

  1. Ask clarifying questions. Vague feedback isn't helpful to either party involved—the recipient doesn't know how to act on it, and thus the critic won't see the changes they expect. When accepting feedback, make sure you understand the critic’s true intent. If anything is unclear, ask questions to shed light on what specifically you can do to fix the issue or improve your performance.
  2. Know that negative feedback isn't a personal attack. Good negative feedback is about your actions or your behavior, not about who you are as a person. Don't let difficult feedback lower your self-confidence because your self-worth isn't related to someone else's opinion of you.
  3. Ask for feedback often. When you go out of your way to ask others in your life for honest feedback, it allows you to get comfortable with constructive criticism. Additionally, asking for feedback more often means that you'll receive it in smaller, more manageable portions. For example, if you only receive feedback at work once a year at your annual review, then your boss may have a lengthy list of criticisms. But if you check in with your boss quarterly to inquire about your performance, your boss might not have much new feedback to give once your annual review arrives.
  4. Take time to process your emotions. It's easy to have an emotional reaction when hearing negative comments. If your knee-jerk reaction is anger or defensiveness, take a deep breath, remain calm, and keep your feelings in check. As long as your critic delivered their feedback in a gracious manner, you should show them the same respect. Once the feedback process has concluded, it's then okay to release your emotions in private or vent to a loved one so that you don't keep your feelings bottled up inside.
  5. View the feedback from your critic's point of view. To avoid receiving feedback in a negative way, put yourself in the shoes of your critic. Seeing the situation from a different perspective often helps you realize that what seems acceptable to you may not be to others.
  6. Determine whether the feedback is constructive or destructive. Take constructive feedback to heart, but be wary of internalizing destructive feedback. How do you tell the difference between these two types of criticism? Constructive criticism intends to create positive change, provides specific suggestions on how to improve, and comes from a place of clear good intentions. On the other hand, someone who gives destructive criticism might not provide a reason behind their criticism, may have ulterior motives, and may use demeaning language. If your critic doesn't seem to want to help you in the first place, the bottom line is that it's probably not worth letting their negative criticism affect your actions.
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