Whilst negative communication and even negative feedback is not something we want to experience; it is often the reality of today’s world. People are not always kind to each other. Their motivations are not always honourable and sometimes, people just don’t think before they speak. Sometimes they don’t even realise how badly they make another person feel, or how their words can affect people.
When you do hear something negative from another person, or receive feedback which is negative, damaging or undesirable, we can choose how we respond. We can play the victim, or blame everyone else for the situation, or we can do one or a few of the following.
Effective Ways to Handle Negative Communication & Feedback
1. Understand it’s not always about you.
Even when directed at you, it might be about their own shortcomings, or they have, in fact, had a lousy day themselves. Even when it is directed to you, it’s often about your behaviour or actions, rather than you as a person. I remember when my sons were little, there were some things they did that I very much did not love – although I always loved them. Remember that distinction; even when it’s about you, it’s often about your behaviour or actions, rather than you as a person.
2. Consider the purpose of the feedback.
Is it constructive or destructive? Is someone wanting to hurt you, or they are ‘lashing out’ or is the feedback’s purpose to help you improve or grow? Take a moment and consider, then give the feedback its due consideration. If the comment was purely negative to be nasty and hurt you, recognise that and then you should dismiss it. The feedback was actually not about you, but about them, they wanted to be nasty to hurt you, or perhaps they have some issues themselves and are transferring those issues outward to you.
3. Avoid becoming defensive or making excuses for what you’ve done.
If you know fairly that you did stuff up or haven’t been on your game. That also means giving the person the chance to finish speaking and not interrupt them. If they are right and you’ve made a mistake, then own it. Apologise, acknowledge you stuffed up and endeavour to do better. If it’s a situation which can be rectified, then work to rectify and keep relevant parties updated as to your status of rectification. Owning up doesn’t mean every other day using the phrase “My bad” and repeating poor behaviour over and over.
4. Give the feedback the right amount of time – and energy.
Avoid dwelling on the feedback and especially rethinking it and over. Also, make sure to avoid a quick reactive response that is purely knee jerk. We’ve all heard the expression to “bite your tongue” and not comment on something without giving it thought, consideration and possibly “counting to a hundred”. This allows us time to cool down, be sensible and think through any responses or reactions. Your boss might say something negative and a knee-jerk reaction might be “I QUIT!” which if you sleep on it overnight and cooled down, you might behave differently. Sure, you might still quit, but you might do it after you’ve gained another job. Or you might calm down and realise that they were just having a super crummy day and their response was due to other factors, such as losing a big account, their partner announcing the desire for a separation, or something else which impacted how they communicated with you. The next day, they might even have apologised! You might be honest with yourself and acknowledge that you, in fact, did make a mistake and you need to correct things.
5. Where suitable, ask clarifying questions.
Don’t assume things, but rather, simply ask. If the feedback is “you’re always late” then clarify if that is late to work, or late with deadlines. If the feedback is from a mentor or boss, and you’re unsure of how you can progress, then also ask if they have any suggestions on how you might improve. Showing the person giving you feedback that you are willing to accept you are not perfect (none of us is) and that you want to improve and would value their feedback will make this a more positive experience for both of you.
6. Are you feeling particularly upset?
Sometimes negative situations can wear us down. We get to a point of being worn thin and struggle to cope. The negative communication you got today might just be the ‘final straw that broke the camel’s back’ and just sends you into a state of despair, anger or distress. Take a break; it might be a day off work, going out to lunch or just going to the bathroom to get five minutes away. You might also find a way to vent; perhaps jogging, punching a boxing bag, journaling, art or immersing yourself in positive and energetic music. Other strategies can be used; such as ‘Tapping’ or positive affirmations. If the distress you are feeling is going beyond occasional, or becoming severe or serious, it might be time to talk to your GP or Counsellor. Factor in also if other things physically are affecting your reaction. Did you have a bad night’s sleep, not eating well or are feeling unwell? Our physical energy can affect our emotions and perhaps any sensitivity might be partially about our physical wellbeing.
7. From consideration with constructive feedback, if you were not comfortable asking your mentor or boss how you could improve, then good old Google might be a great solution.
Let’s say that submitting work on time is your challenge, then Google solutions on how you might improve your productivity and time management that could be quite helpful and improve previous weaknesses.
8. Talk to someone.
It might be your Life Coach, a friend or family member (or Counsellor or GP). Remember that some people will be wanting to offer up solutions, so if you know that person is like that, perhaps a preamble reminding them you’re not looking for solutions, you just need someone to talk to and vent with. Maybe you are looking for both and want to vent, but also do want feedback; communicate clearly what you are looking for from your listener.
9. Learn and grow.
See negative feedback or comments (if constructive) as a way to grow. Perhaps you’re frequently late to work or meetings and people make those comments all the time – and you know it’s true. Work at improving being on time, particularly if you know it will benefit you. If you’re slow using a program, do some training. If you’re not great with public speaking, perhaps joining Toastmasters or doing a course and certainly practising. See constructive feedback as a means to help you grow.
I remember a co-worker once saying to me (after a supervisor had unfairly and rudely spoken to me) ‘only one person can ruin your day – you’. Others may attempt to spoil our day, but it’s only ourselves who can let them. To some degree, we cannot control what others say to us, or how they treat us, but we can control how we respond. As part of my business coaching and life coaching, I work with clients to help them to better communicate themselves and to better handle negative situations around them. If you would like to learn more – feel free to reach out via my contact page.
P.S. If you’re the person giving feedback, remember these 6 things:
- Think before you speak and don’t give feedback if you know you’re in a ‘crappy’ mood.
- Be constructive and deliver your feedback in such a way that the person receiving will cope.
- Give an example of the feedback, but without it being a ‘blame game’.
- Pad negative feedback with positive; cover also what they are doing well.
- Offer suggestions or recommendations on how they might improve; possibly additional training or access to a mentor.
- Take notes and follow up in a positive way to see how the person is progressing.