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5 tips on handling negative feedback at work

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No one likes negative feedback at work. Being told that you have failed to meet expectations or you have committed a mistake can be disastrous for the ego, especially when the feedback is given in front of others or when the method of conveying the feedback is harsh.

Yet, we hear time and again that negative feedback, if given and accepted in the right spirit, can help improve one's performance at work.

Here are five things you need to keep in mind when it comes to negative feedback:

1. Is the feedback constructive or destructive? Negative feedback can be both constructive and destructive. Constructive feedback is meant to help you improve the task at hand as well as your overall performance in the company, says Vipin Kumar, who works as a manager with a job portal. Such feedback comes with ideas and solutions. Destructive feedback, on the other hand, will sound like an outright disapproval of the idea. Also, it doesn't come with solutions. So in the end, you are still on your own and the feedback doesn't do you any good. It is important to understand the difference between the two, says Kumar. Follow constructive criticism and throw away the destructive bit, he says.

2. Who is criticizing? If you start listening to every bit of criticism that comes your way, you will never be able to perform. "Handpick a two-three seniors who you will regularly approach for feedback. All of them needn't be in your team. Let them know that their feedback will be appreciated. Once you have your team, politely shut everyone else out," Kumar said. There will be people who think they know everything, stay away from them, he adds. If the feedback is coming from your boss and the idea is something you don't approve of, there's no need to say 'yes' straightaway. Explain your idea over a cup of coffee, maybe you'll reach a common ground. Kumar also advises to keep away people with whom you have personal differences.

3. They are criticizing your work, not you: Never mix these up. The criticism of an idea or the execution of a plan or project is not your criticism. Once you understand this difference, it will be easier to accept the feedback. Your boss can criticize you in his room in the morning and still take the team out for a drink in the evening. It's not odd. It's just a way of telling you that you are a valuable member of his team, and that his intensions were only to help you improve.

4. Be receptive: Don't shut yourself or become defensive to negative feedback and don't treat it like an embarrassment. Being receptive will only encourage others to come forward. According to B.J. Gallagher, the author of "It's Never Too Late to Be What You Might Have Been", being defensive can make you appear uncooperative, and may actually make the problem worse. People may stop giving you feedback. Instead, ask questions. Find out what the other person would do in a similar situation.

5. Learn as much as you can, but don't be a perfectionist: Learn from each criticism. But holding on to work just to ensure that you do the job perfectly so as not to attract criticism is not advisable, says Kumar. He quotes Esther Dyson, an entrepreneur and angel investor: "always make new mistakes".  Being a perfectionist means feedback on even the smallest and avoidable mistakes will have a big impact on you. This will only be detrimental to your career, he adds.

Story first published on: February 13, 2013 09:59 (IST)

Tags: career, negative feedback, office

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