How to Receive and Use Difficult Feedback in the Workplace

Whether it is an an annual performance evaluation or completely unexpected, even the most dedicated employees have, at some point in their careers, received difficult or constructive feedback. Sometimes it’s about your communication style, or a mistake you’ve made, sometimes its something even more minor. How you take in the feedback, and react, is important, and here are some tips for when these uncomfortable situations arise.

Pause, and Take a Deep Breath

When these difficult, uncomfortable conversations arise, and our work performance is discussed, we can also find ourselves reacting in one of three ways – fight, flight, or freeze. While some of us become combative, many of us don’t have the option of leaving the office we are in to discuss an important topic, so many of us freeze (and panic). Whatever your first instinct is, take a minute to pause, and take a deep breath. Chances are, the person you are having the conversation with knows it is an uncomfortable one, and they don’t expect you to have the perfect response prepared right away. Take a minute to slow down your breathing, and try to take in what they are saying, without interjecting. Remember that what they are saying is not a personal attack, and is not criticizing every element of who you are as a person, there is just an area or two where you can improve – and improvement is good, it is how we grow and succeed.

Be Sincere

If you need to apologize, do so, sincerely and in a heartfelt manner. You do not want to over apologize, you may stress that you need to say “I’m sorry” every time you see the person, but in the moment, it may feel like you can’t say it enough. This is okay – but slow down, and acknowledge that you hear what the person is telling you, and look within yourself to see if you can understand where this person is coming from. While it may not have been your intention, miscommunications happen, and your actions or words may have been understood differently than you intended. Apologize, and clearly state before the end of the conversation what you will specifically do to right the situation, and work towards improving. If you feel as though the person is not considering your side of the story, or you have other information to share – you can share it, but be aware that again, just because you have not meant to miscommunicate or make a mistake, doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened or been perceived that way. Be honest with yourself, and with your peer – specifically state what you will do to make things better. Again, when in doubt, slow down, and take a deep breath – it is better to ponder over and prepare your words carefully than to rush and say things you don’t mean to. And if you’re confused, ask for clarification! (about timeline, next steps, apologies that should be given, etc). This is more than okay, it is welcome as it often shows you are dedicated to improving.

Be Kind to Yourself

While acknowledging you need to improve is key to successfully navigating many difficult situations, it is also important to be kind to yourself. Remind yourself of what you know about yourself, and what you do well, that your supervisor or peers may not know about. You are more than just an employee at one company, there are many other elements to your life that are important and that you can be proud of. Treat yourself to a treat out at a favorite coffeeshop, or indulge in a vent session with a close friend about how frustrated you are. Just remember that these situations happen to everyone, and that miscommunication and mistakes are just one element to your long workplace journey. Better days are on the horizon, and we all grow through these experiences.

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