How to Handle Your Boss' Negative Feedback (even if you disagree)

Amy was dreading her performance review.  She’d just be in the job a year, and her interactions with her imperfect boss were becoming more tense and intense with each passing month. The truth was, she questioned his approach to running the department, and he wasn’t listening to her ideas. She didn’t love his suggestions, and often reacted defensively to his feedback, making matters worse. She figured all the crap from those interactions would show up in a one-sided performance synopsis she’d have to defend, but didn’t know how.

She was grinning when she told me how it went.

“Well I had my performance review today, and the feedback was about as I expected. But, instead of reacting, I listened, thanked him, and asked for specific suggestions on how I could improve. I also had a list of things I’ve been working on in areas we’ve been talking about and I asked him for his help. I think he was shocked.”

Well played.

She went on to share:

“I think he had been bracing for my defensive reaction, but when I showed I was truly listening, his whole demeanor changed. It took every ounce of energy I had to not bring out the list of stupid things he’s doing wrong, but I decided it wasn’t a matter of being right, it was about improvement. Plus, some of what he said was true. I did have areas I could improve so why not start there? My listening seemed to change his approach to me, he started to act like a boss I could deal with.”

Game on.

A Few Tips For Handling Negative Feedback

1. You don’t have to respond in-depth right away

“I hear you. Thank you. Let me think about that” is enough, particularly if you’re really ticked off.

2. Listen Deeply

Knowing that you don’t have to respond immediately provides immense freedom to focus  your energy to listen well. Take notes. Ask for clarifying examples.

3. Consider

Sure there are always two sides to every story. But open your mind to where your boss is coming from. Even if he’s full of flaws, his perspective likely contains some nuggets of truth. Don’t throw out the potentially useful feedback with the proverbial bathwater.

4. Look For Patterns

Where have you heard similar feedback before? From whom? Does he sound just like your mom? Your ex-lover? Just saying.

5. Solicit Additional Feedback

Don’t start with “My boss said this… what do you think? He’s an idiot, right?” But do ask around without mentioning him at all. Seek to understand if others have a similiar impression.

6. If It’s BS. Let It Go

In my career I’ve been very deliberate in completely blowing off stupid feedback from time to time. I’ve known other successful people who’ve done the same. If you’re blowing it off from multiple people from multiple directions, you might want to pause some more. But if you’re getting icky feedback from one guy (or gal), and you’ve sought hard to understand, it may just be time to respectfully let it go. Yup, there’s a song for that 😉 The Frozen soundtrack works wonders with the windows rolled up.

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Posted in Career & Learning, Communication and tagged , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, is CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and a former Verizon Wireless executive. Karin was named on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference, the American Management Association List of 50 Leaders to Watch, and as a Trust Across America Top Thought Leader in Trust. She’s the award-winning author of two books, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results— Without Losing Your Soul, and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss. She’s regularly featured in business publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and Inc.

10 Comments

  1. Great story to illustrate how performance reviews can really work. Reacting in the moment to negative feedback or simply places you can continue to grow and improve doesn’t help anyone. Learning to take it in, go away and really reflect helps assimilate the information and the experience. If you really don’t agree and are struggling to find things to implement you can let it go or schedule a follow up conversation with some of the key points from your last post. Bring numbers and examples to back up why you think that it’s off the mark and be ready to listen some more.

    This is a perfect example of the importance of confident humility.

    Best,

    Alli

    • Alli, Thanks so much. I don’t know many people who enjoy performance reviews, but knowing we have options on how to respond can help manage them more effectively. Thanks, as always, for your awesome perspective.

  2. This very thing has happened to me…and I agree wtih you: the way in which we respond can make it either a negative or learning experience.

    Even if I don’t agree with the negative feedback, I figure I can always learn from it. Usually, I found I had a blindspot in that area and didn’t realize it.

    It’s important to be able to differentiate between constructive feedback and stuff that is just negative.

    Loved this post, Karin!

    • LaRae, Thanks so much. I think getting feedack we don’t want to hear is almost a universal experience 😉 I always appreciate your generous comments.

  3. What a great topic and challenge we all face as leaders. I am a processor so I tend not to react before I have had time to digest and delve more deeply into what is being shared. What is difficult is when a negative comment comes from left field and we don’t see it coming. But you make a great point that maybe there is a little bit of truth or lesson we can learn from that perspective.

    Thanks Karin and I definitely will share this with other leaders!

    • Terri, I wish I were a processor 😉 Thanks so much for extending the conversation.

    • Chery, Thanks so much, ahh yes, indeed it is. Of course everytime I hear the words “let it go” these days, I want to burst into the frozen soundtrack 😉

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