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Leaders: How To Respond To Negative Employee Feedback

Employees aren’t the only ones who can receive feedback about their performance at work. As a manager or business leader, it’s important to receive feedback from your employees so you can understand how you’re doing and what you need to do to improve. While every manager hopes for positive feedback, they may still receive negative feedback from time to time, and it’s how they respond to that feedback that can really make the difference.

If an employee thinks you’re not performing at your best and lets you know about it, there are some steps you should take to address the complaint the right way. Below, eight members of Young Entrepreneur Council explained what leaders should do after they receive negative feedback.

1. Treat All Feedback As Gold

Getting feedback, good or bad, should be treated as gold. First, make sure the employee feels safe to give their feedback on a regular basis. There are multiple tools such as Officevibe, 15Five, etc. that are great for this. Second, respond to all feedback and make sure you listen to your team. Third, gain perspective. Do not be afraid to dig into the feedback and see what you can do to improve. The best feedback is from your team. Listen to them, take action and show them that you not only appreciate their input, but that you will also do something about it and improve your business, leadership, management, etc. – Magnus Simonarson, Consultwebs

2. Isolate The Core Issue

Understand what is driving their concerns before trying to “solve the problem.” Usually, the feedback can be isolated to a core issue. It could be a process issue, a communication issue, a personnel issue, etc. Once you have isolated it, reframe the employee’s feedback within that issue to confirm that what you uncovered aligns with what they are feeling. My go-to is “I want to make sure I have heard this accurately…” Once you have confirmed the core issue, you can work on a solution. This process is important because it validates the employee’s concerns, shows you take constant improvement seriously and, most importantly, involves the employee in the process. This will make them feel like their opinions matter (because they do) and make the workplace a better environment for everyone. – Liam Leonard, DML Capital

3. Take A Deep Breath

Like with anything unpleasant, when we receive negative feedback, the knee-jerk reaction is to push it aside as quickly as possible. It’s so easy to rush to react. However, so much depends on taking a breath and a step back to consider what has been shared—not only for the relationship but also for your own self-awareness. Ask yourself: Is there some truth to what they have said? Was there a misunderstanding? Could communication have been stronger than it was? Treat the criticism as the golden opportunity it is to meet someone where they are, discover what could be done better in the future and learn something valuable about yourself in the process. – Blair Thomas, eMerchantBroker

4. Listen Intently

Listen and really understand what they’re saying. Even if you think they’re missing part of the context, keep listening. Make sure they feel heard. Only after that can you start to address the issue. And maybe you don’t address it immediately. It’s very important to say, “Thank you for this feedback. Let me think about this for a day or two.” That’s much more useful than trying to respond right away. When you get negative feedback, make sure the person giving the feedback feels heard and that you thank them for it. This will encourage them to keep raising issues. Let the matter rest for a couple of days and, only after that, come back and share the context or share what you’re doing to improve the situation. – Cody Candee, Bounce

5. Take It To An Impartial Third Party

Taking the negative feedback to an impartial third person can create a powerful opportunity for the leader to gain some insight. A mentor may explore the feedback from a different angle or ask pertinent questions reframing what was said. If you can get the viewpoint of someone who isn’t biased and entrenched in your business, they could point out errors and assumptions in the feedback—and also real insights you can learn from. Take some time to think and get external feedback. When you see more angles to the story, you’ll have food for thought and can then make changes based on a rational and well-thought-out understanding of the poor feedback you received. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

6. Show Appreciation And Then Change

Show genuine appreciation and then actually change your behavior. It’s one thing to thank someone for feedback and then go back to your normal habits, but if you can truly make a change based on the feedback and acknowledge that their feedback is why you’ve made that change, it will help people feel more comfortable giving feedback in the future. This is something I try to do and am definitely not perfect at, but I know it’s so important because I really value any critical feedback from those I work with. It’s the only way I can learn and grow as a leader. – Kelsey Raymond, Influence & Co.

7. Try Not To Let Emotions Lead

Don’t react now. This is probably one of the most difficult things to do because we’re usually overcome with pain and fear—pain that a close team member thinks this poorly of us and fear that we might be too incompetent to pull off this leadership role. If anyone says otherwise, they’re incredible humans, not self-aware or likely lying. We as humans aren’t necessarily built to receive criticism well, and it takes a lot of care and an intentional approach to receive feedback without it breaking us completely. When I say don’t react, I mean don’t get defensive right there or get obsessed with the negative feedback. As hard as the second part seems, it’s possible. Take your time to cool off and you’ll react better. Don’t let emotions lead. – Samuel Thimothy, OneIMS

8. Lead By Example

As a manager and business leader, it is important to lead by example. If you expect your employees to take criticism the right way in order to make beneficial changes, then when it comes back to you about how you are overseeing them, you should not get defensive and you should be prepared to either adjust or explain why you disagree so they understand your logic in the way you lead. A professional person will not react like a child and will always listen to criticism in a level-headed manner. – Michael Sinensky, WeShield

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