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.