Most of us take pride in the things we create and the work we do. No matter who, all of us want praise for results produced by our hard work.
But every now and then, we receive comments that feel like an attack on our work and, by extension, us.
We can’t run away from negative feedback. It is only natural for people to make mistakes and for other people to notice and point them out.
Knowing how to handle negative feedback is an essential skill. It will not only help you improve relations with customers or colleagues—it can also help you grow.
Tips on How to Handle Negative Feedback
Negative feedback can come from all kinds of people at work: employers or managers, employees or customers. The right approach in handling their criticism can help you improve a great deal.
Here are some tips on how to handle negative feedback from others:
Pause and think.
Negative feedback won’t always come in civil or polite ways. Even if it does, people will naturally put up defenses in the face of criticism.
Before responding, pause and think.
Our first instinct may be to defend ourselves and lay out reasons explaining why we are not wrong, but this won’t solve anything. Trying to prove the other person wrong can make us sound more defensive.
It can be more infuriating when a person cannot phrase feedback in a good way—but this doesn’t mean that their feedback is invalid or wrong. We can use the 5 whys method to figure out the root cause of badly-phrased negative feedback.
The 5 whys method is a process in which you ask “why” repeatedly until you get to the main cause as to why the problem happened. It is based on the assumption that it takes five why’s for someone to get to the root cause of a problem.
Here is an example:
- Why? The customer received the wrong package.
- Why? The warehouse labeled the package incorrectly.
- Why? The shipping company’s labels did not match order forms.
- Why? The shipping company and the shop had different records.
- Why? The two used different management schemes and applications.
Knowing the root cause of an issue not only helps us understand and solve the problem, but it may also help us feel less emotional and more empathetic with the other person.
Do not be emotional.
It is very important to keep our emotions in check when receiving criticism. Negative feedback is not always an attack, but simply someone’s response or reaction. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask these questions:
What is the actual problem? What went wrong for the other person?
Why did they react the way they did? What are they experiencing that may be causing them agitation?
Did you say or do anything that might have triggered them? If so, what could you have done better?
Keeping calm and avoiding the immediate assumption of negative intent in the other person will help you handle the situation better.
If you can’t control your emotions, take your time before replying to the other person. In the case of face-to-face communications, nod and take pauses to think before saying anything.
Remember: speaking in anger almost always leads to regret.
After calming down, take time to understand the other person better. Asking questions can help you size up the situation at hand objectively.
But just asking any random question would not work: listening is key. Active listening is a soft skill that can greatly help people deal with negative criticism better.
With active listening, people go beyond the “me” and what other people’s words mean to them. People who have active listening skills seek out how the other person thinks and feels, and they respond based on the other’s thoughts and emotions instead of their own.
We can use active listening to ask questions that are meant to understand instead of disprove. It also allows us to empathize with the other person better.
By asking questions and wanting to solve the concern, we shift to “their side”—dissolving the attack-defense dynamic.
Apologize, but only if necessary.
After receiving negative feedback, it may occur to some people to say sorry. Common sense, right?
However, apologizing should not become a default reaction. People can actually over-apologize, and apologies mean nothing if they do not sound sincere.
One good way of expressing sincerity and humility is by empathizing with the other person.
Show them that you understand their frustration. Instead of saying sorry over and over again, try saying “I understand that this is a frustrating situation. We are very sorry. Here is what we can do to make this right.”
Opportunities in Negative Feedback
What some people may not realize is that negative feedback is a great opportunity to establish a brand’s reliability and credibility. With skill and the right approach, one can turn a customer with a bad experience into an asset who will promote a company’s products and services on their own initiative.
Here are some tips on how to respond to negative reviews:
Respond, and do it fast.
The only thing worse than a slow reply is no reply at all. When something goes wrong with a product or service, there is a high chance that the customer is not in the best mood.
Responding as quickly as possible to a bad review shows that the company cares about the customer and their experience. Businesses should take the time to read through a negative review and respond accordingly—never send canned responses in such situations!
Acknowledge, apologize, and empathize.
The same rule applies to businesses: apologize if necessary, but always empathize.
When empathizing with the customer, always acknowledge what they said. We can do this by paraphrasing their concern.
Restate what the customer said briefly, ideally in one sentence only. After acknowledging the problem, communicate to the customer that you understand the difficulty and frustration that they must have suffered during the ordeal.
Reassure customers and provide an incentive for a second chance.
Always include a promise of improvement when responding to customer criticism. Take this further by asking them how they think your product, service, or process could improve from their perspective.
Companies may include a short survey together with their response to the review.
One great way of keeping the customer despite the bad experience is by offering coupons, discounts, and other exclusive promos. Companies who choose to offer free items may want to remind the customer to update their review afterward.
Keep the feedback coming.
Customers feel valued when companies handle their feedback smoothly.
Always thank the customer for their feedback and let them know that your company appreciates hearing from the customer. If you can afford it, designate a team to read through negative reviews and respond to them one by one.
Being receptive to feedback improves your brand identity, and we should not shy away from criticism.
In the end…
Feedback is a reaction that can be used constructively. Take kindly to it and the person offering it and reflect on what the comment says at its core.