I was about 14, in my first “real” (not de-tassling corn or babysitting) job. I worked at a family-owned fast-food restaurant. Though I was a hard worker, I was also prone to distraction when my friends would come to the order window. One day, the manager sternly informed me that the owner, Herschel, wanted to talk with me. I thought, “Oh, no. I’m going to be fired.” However, Herschel’s attitude and words changed my life.

Rather than firing me, Herschel focused first on my positive qualities on the job. He then detailed the behaviors which were a problem. When asked if I wanted a second chance for a clean slate, I jumped at the chance. I needed that job, and wanted the owner and manager to realize what I could do.

Did the feedback sting? You bet it did. In fact, if the conversation happened today, I might have an even harder time handling it. I like to think I have the world of work figured out, and I battle more with defensiveness than I did at that tender young age.

In HBR’s Using Harsh Feedback to Fuel Your Career, William Treseder articulates some of the thinking that prevents negative feedback from being the springboard for growth. One of those is confusing behavior with identity, so that when someone gives you criticism, you infer that your core self is being attacked. Other watch-outs are believing that you should be good at everything and perfectionism. (I’m pretty sure I could check off all three thinking errors.)

His recommendations when you find yourself blown away by negative feedback:

Step 1: Embrace emotions. Acknowledge them and give yourself a little time for their intensity to diminish.

Step 2: Don’t demonize. Feedback is a gift, even if you’d prefer not to have received it.

Step 3: Prioritize. What is the most critical aspect of the feedback that you need to respond to?

Step 4: Piggyback on a skill. What strength can you use as a springboard to improve in this area?

Step 5: Commit. Incentives are better than discipline, so create a plan for discipline that incentivizes the right behavior.

I may never be able to return to the childlike innocence I displayed in my first “almost-fired” experience. I do want to continue to better understand myself and the thinking behind my knee-jerk reaction to negative feedback.


How do you handle unfavorable feedback? Comment below or send us a message.

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