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Career Happiness 101: Dealing With Terrible Feedback

Posted September 9, 2013 by Christie Mims in On the Ladder

Yes, that’s right: Your colleagues have a say in your career happiness.  Negative, annoying, frustrating, overly peppy or checked-out…these co-workers and bosses can make our day by being awesome, or tank our day by being so far away from awesome they may need a map to find their way back.  So, it makes sense that it’s really easy to get wrapped up in the mood of those around us.

And sometimes, those people (whatever their mood) feel the need to give us feedback. *Sigh*

Feedback comes in all shapes and sizes.  Good feedback, feedback with “upgrades,”  and let me just pull you aside and tell you that you didareallybadjobonthatprojectm’k? as I walk away.

Negative feedback can absolutely just tank your day, make you question yourself, and send you running for your covers.

It’s normal, it happens. But don’t resign yourself to ice cream and a comforter yet!

Here are a few things that you can do in order to handle that feedback, and make your life just a little bit better.

As your receive negative feedback:

  1. Employ jedi-mind tricks.  When someone gives you negative feedback that takes you by surprise, consider turning it into a visual exercise.  Imagine the words leaving their mouth, flying past you, and hitting a wall behind you (admittedly, this works less well with written feedback).  It’s hard not to take it personally, and often negative feedback IS personal, but it doesn’t help your cause to get angry.  You can parse through the wall-of-words later, but keep them separate from yourself so that you can keep your cool. Sticks and stones, right?
  2. Listen.  Feedback is a gift. Yes, it’s true. Even if it feels like a kick in the pants. If someone feels the need to give you negative feedback, then you’ve probably done something to justify it.  So listen and hear everything.  You can get into the details of what really applies to you when they are done.
  3. Say thank you.  This part can suck, but if you’ve just had a verbal dressing down, the last thing you want to do is jump into defending yourself – you won’t be thinking clearly and it will come from an emotional place.  Give yourself a chance to pause, say “thank you” and then tell them you’d like to think about what they’ve said and schedule some time to talk about it.  Or just tell them you’d like to think about what they’ve said. Whatever feels graceful to you.  You can make a voodoo doll of them and stab it repeatedly later.

  After the feedback is over:

  1. Take a moment to clear your head.  This part is critical – you need to be able to think very clearly about what just happened, and that is hard to do in the moment. Take a walk, go for a run, write it down, and then walk away for a few minutes.  All of this helps calm you down.  Bitch, moan, dance it out (I recommend Bon Jovi) and then take a breath and start thinking.
  2. Consider the source.  Here’s the thing: There is my truth, your truth, and THE truth.  And often, your source is speaking from their perception which is their truth, but not THE truth.  They might have their own crap going on that clouds their view of you, a revisionist history problem, or they plain forget all of the good stuff you have done and completely get distracted by one ‘iffy’ thing.  So, take a moment and think about what is going on with the source of the feedback. Are they having a rough month? Are they forgetting a bunch of other stuff that happened? Do you feel like their feedback is actively malicious or coming from a place of hurt instead of help? Are they a giant ball of defensiveness themselves?  It could all be a part of the problem.
  3. Focus on what you want to take away.  There is often a “small” grain of truth in negative feedback.  You may have to sift hard to find it, but rest-assured, it’s likely there.  So, what of the feedback do you really want to take ownership of? If someone pulls you aside and tells you that you are an entitled employee who treats the company like a personal playground, is there a grain of truth in the fact that perhaps you haven’t been working that hard recently? Or that you do “sometimes” take advantage of the facilities?
  4. Be classy.  This is the hard part. You want to protect and defend yourself and let’s face it, negative feedback is often designed to hurt instead of help.  But stop yourself from the urge to respond in the mode of a child on the playground: “Oh yeah? You SUCK TOO!” and don’t fall into the trap of focusing on all of the faults of the person giving you the feedback (of which there are many….obviously!). Instead, figure out what the best version of you would do, and respond accordingly.  If you are struggling, here are some ideas on how to be the best version of you: acknowledge the feedback, sift through it, and take ownership of the grain that you know (it’s there!) applies to you. If you really want a gold star, then re-engage with the person who gave you the feedback, thank them for their time in giving it, and say something like:

“I heard what you said about my sense of entitlement.  I’ll admit it was tough to hear, but I have, in the past, probably taken advantage of the company and I’m not proud of that.  I will take ownership of my actions and do my best not to make that mistake in the future. If you don’t mind, I’d love to come to you with questions down the road – is that ok?”


“I heard what you said about my sense of entitlement. I’m not sure I agree with everything that you stated, but I wanted to let you know that I listened and will think on it because I know you are trying to help me succeed.  And, if it is ok, I might continue to come to you for feedback in the future to keep me on course.”

Ah-hah! Your last jedi-mind trick.  By asking for their help in the future, you are getting them to unconsciously be bought into your success.  And that will make the chances of negative feedback so much less down the road, and keep your voodoo doll collection small.

And most importantly:  Your career happiness will be on the way up!

Want more career happiness? Join the REVOLUTION and learn how to make your career happy right now, and in the future. It’s free!

About the Author

Christie Mims

Christie Mims is The Radical Fairy Godmother to the Woman Trapped in Her Suit. A job reinvention specialist, she is a certified professional career and transition coach with a background working for Fortune 500 companies, the Department of Defense, and large Federal agencies. As a former business unit director in a top consulting firm, she has been there, done that, and worn those uncomfortable shoes. So, while she knows that career transition is hard, it doesn’t have to be lonely! Feeling stuck in your suit? Grab her free job UNstuck kit over at www.therevolutionaryclub.com! (That is also where she keeps her sage career wisdom AND a side sass). It’s time to make your career happy!