8 ways negative feedback can improve your career

Step 1: Don't take it personally

Negative feedback can be hard to stomach, especially in the workplace. But it doesn't have to be. William Treseder, a founding partner at consultancy BMNT, shares eight ways to turn criticism into a successful career. 

1. Separate behavior from identity

When someone offers you feedback, chances are it's aimed at your behavior. But it's common for people to internalize feedback as an attack on personal character or professional identity. Before you do anything else, remind yourself not to take it personally.

2. Accept your emotions

When you first receive negative feedback, you're going to be upset. It's inevitable. But if you try to suppress the anger, you won't be able to move forward. That's why Treseder suggests reaching out to someone and venting to them—outside the workplace, of course—so that you can proceed with a clear head.

3. Don't blame the critic

It's all too common to label someone as the enemy after they've given you negative feedback. Treseder encourages us to avoid this tendency at all costs. After all, those who provide feedback are investing the time and energy to offer criticism because they care about your improvement and want you to succeed.

4. Organize your priorities

Feedback is often multi-faceted, which makes it difficult to tackle all at once. Treseder says it is best to choose the one aspect of feedback that will serve to improve other aspects of your work as well. Some aspects may not be, as Treseder says, "worth the squeeze."

5. Recognize that your strengths have limits

No one person can be a master at every task or subject. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses so that you can look to collaborators when facing a task you struggle with.

6. Allow your existing skills to inform your improvement

Treseder says this step could take as little as ten seconds. Is there something you're good at? Can you use it to address your negative feedback? If you're a big talker, for instance, you could use the skill to ask more questions in a meeting rather than make more comments, so as to become better informed.  

7. Don't be a perfectionist

Perfectionism will only help you to a certain extent, Treseder says—most likely at the beginning of your professional career. Later on, though, it can become detrimental to your productivity, as you dwell on minute details and let your other work pile up. This is especially true for receiving feedback. Don't let your obsession with being perfect stand in the way of your responsibilities.

8. Make yourself accountable

When you put some accountability measures in place, Treseder says, you will have a stronger incentive to improve. One way to do this is to thank the person who gave you feedback, and then schedule a meeting with them a month later. At that meeting, inform them about what you're doing to change, and how you're gauging your progress toward that change (Treseder, Harvard Business Review, 10/12). 

Related: how to give feedback if you hate conflict

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