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.

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.

LGL Labor Day: Be A Better Boss Challenge

It’s Labor Day in America, no better time for the LGL “Be A Better Boss Challenge.” Don’t worry, no ice buckets or donations necessary (although our porch was filled with buckets on Sunday).  I’m just advocating for a bit of focused effort on taking your relationship with your team (and with your boss) to the next level.

Of course, if you can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than dumping a bucket of icewater on the head of your boss, you best read on. If you think your team would love that opportunity, you better go all in and buy the book (for your team). Just saying 😉

Strained Boss Relationships are Everywhere

A few statistics from recent research.

Just like any other relationship, the best way to improve such relationships is to open the lines of communication. Even strong manager/employee relationships can be made stronger by taking the time to connect.

Who’s in the Best Position to Start the Conversation?

I recently shared the survey from my book with a group of about 50 managers representing a variety of organizations and industries in the public and private sectors. When I encouraged them to take the survey back and share it with their boss, my request was met with a universal chorus of shaking heads, uneasy laughter, and a resounding “no way.” On the other hand, when I asked them if they would be willing to use the survey with their own teams, they were much more receptive. It makes sense. It’s much easier if the person with the power is the one who initiates the, “Let’s make our relationship the best we can” conversation.

And so this Labor Day, I leave you with this Be a Better Boss Challenge. Have your team take the  Real Boss Survey (available free with this link) and then meet with them one-on-one to discuss how you can take your relationship to the next level.

Or, if you don’t like that game, use this week to do something specific to improve the relationship with at least one or two people on your team.

And of course, I encourage you to take the challenge to the next level and do something specific to enhance your relationship with your own boss as well.

For now, please share your stories and ideas of other specific ways you’ve worked to identify and improve your relationship with your team or with your boss in the comments below. Our community needs your insights.

Game on.

Another tool that can help is 8 Questions You Should Ask Your Boss.