Negative Feedback: How to Tame Your Knee-Jerk Reactions

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Let’s face it. Taking criticism is never easy, especially at work. But when you’re a manager, it’s your job to make good use of feedback — even when it involves you, your peers, or other areas of the business.

Having a leadership role doesn’t mean you’re perfect, but it does mean you’re called to a higher standard. And for good reason. When internal divisions persist at a company, the effect can be destabilizing.

“Negativity has a knack for spreading, particularly at companies that don’t take it seriously,” said Katherine Vanderford, Head of Operations for WorkHound. “When their workforce thins out and they start losing customers, the damage can be tough to reverse.”

Wherever your employee dynamics currently stand, it’s wise to consider your approach to feedback — both in how you request it from your workers and in how you react to it — long before an issue arises. The way you handle negativity sets the tone for everyone around you. And if being better in conflict feels overwhelming, don’t worry — there are plenty of ways to check your perspective.

The next time you catch yourself having a knee-jerk reaction, here are some practices to avoid and embrace:

Try to Avoid

Letting Emotions Flare

Alright, it’s easier said than done. But think about it: How many times have you let your feelings jump ahead of the actual situation at hand? Whether it’s about you or a team member, oftentimes the best way to process negative feedback is to take a step back.

“If a worker leaves critical feedback about you or a cohort on your team, try tapping into your emotional intelligence before getting too carried away,” said Vanderford. “One piece of criticism is never the whole picture, so do your best not to take it out of context.”

Bottom line: When reviewing feedback, don’t put the focus on yourself. Your priority is to identify what the worker is saying, why it matters, and what you can do about it.

Rushing to Point Fingers

When uncomfortable feedback rolls in, never try to guess who’s behind it. If you spend your time trying to determine who said what, you’ll miss the point of the entire process. On WorkHound, communications are anonymous for a reason. That’s why we leave it up to the worker to reveal their identity.

“People who ask for changes or clarifications are typically those who want to stay at the company,” said Vanderford. “If they don’t feel comfortable voicing their concerns, your company loses out on valid perspectives.”

And in many cases, an opinion expressed by one employee is actually the opinion of many.

“The goal is to build worker trust,” said Vanderford. “That means honoring the expectation of anonymity. Even if one of your reviewers is able to link identifying details to a specific piece of feedback, it doesn’t mean their assessment is correct.”

Try to Embrace

Boiling Down the Message

If you find yourself getting defensive about a negative review, remember to try and strip away negativity to unveil important details. When you look closely, you may be surprised at what you find. A review fueled with negative emotions may have some valuable information inside.

“Don’t let negative language distract from the issues hiding beneath it,” said Vanderford. “Oftentimes when a worker has been harboring discomfort for a while, they’ll wait to speak up until they have reached a breaking point.”

For instance, an employee may have an issue with a time off policy, while also dealing with medical expenses they’ve incurred as a result of an ongoing health problem. This may lead them to leaving an emotionally charged message about their manager’s inflexibility with the sick time policy, when what they’re actually trying to suggest is more leniency or medical leave in times of need.

When you provide a solution to a long-standing issue, that negative becomes a positive and a great opportunity to not only keep a worker but to also grow your workforce.

Viewing Feedback as an Opportunity To Improve Your Company Culture

At the end of the day, taking criticism can be tough — but when you start to view it as a necessary and critical component to the forward momentum and success of your business, you and your team will only benefit.

“Feedback should be reviewed strategically in the work environment,” said Vanderford. “It’s a tool for tracking trends, understanding your workers, and adjusting your path forward. And not all adjustments require massive change. In some cases, simply acknowledging issues and taking small steps toward updating policies can make all the difference.”

Some changes are bigger than others. And sure, maybe you can’t always control how some of your workers feel. But understanding your influence over some of the underlying issues is a great place to begin building or enhancing your company’s feedback culture.

WorkHound provides an easy-to-use feedback platform that gives employees a voice and employers actionable insight. If you’re ready to learn how WorkHound could improve the feedback culture at your business or organization, talk with an expert today.

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