To be completely honest, I was one of those students who up until grad school had worked really hard and received consistently positive feedback throughout her entire school career. Then I entered grad school and the bar was raised, and the professors had no qualms about crushing my soul, and hard work, into the ground. It is only in retrospect that I realize that my grad school feedback experience was made worse by professors attacking my work, and my personality and personal struggles. There were no boundaries.
To be clear, in the professional sector of our lives, negative feedback of any sort should be constrained to the professional aspects of our daily existence. Personal attacks that are peppered in between the run-of-the-mill red ink on your manuscript draft is a twisted way to wield the power dynamic. I’m not gonna lie, it thickened my skin and prepared me for the workforce, but at the same time, it took me a little longer to separate the healthy negative feedback from the mess that was regularly flung at me via email.
No matter how painful it is to see your hard work ripped to shreds, I still firmly believe that we need regular, honest, and timely negative feedback. Without it, our career progress will come to a shrieking halt right after our hiring date. You want a raise? Sorry, you never showed any growth. You want to snag that fancy manager position at the other company? Sorry, you fail dismally at delivering honest feedback to your coworkers, and you’d never be able to keep your employees in line.
How do we find the balance?
I think one of the first concepts to come to terms with is that when someone is giving you honest-to-god feedback on your work, it’s just on your work (hopefully). Oftentimes I equate the quality of my professional work to my worth as a person, which really messes with your brain if you ruminate on it too much. In the grand scheme of things, if you’re receiving feedback on stuff for work or school then it’s relatively objective—a means to an end, if you will. Love your work all you want, but at some point you have to draw the line between where you end and where work begins.
Another important thing is for you to communicate to your head honcho how you want to receive negative feedback. For me, I want to receive it in the moment rather than something that’s saved up to be dealt out in a massive load at quarterly reviews. I also don’t care if the boss tells me what I did wrong in front of other people. Seriously, it’s so much more awkward to be called into another room—it’s not as if nobody else knows what’s going on.
After my semi-traumatic graduate experience where I really never knew what was going to hit me next, I walked in to my new job and told my boss by the second day what I preferred. Please shoot straight with me—no need to waffle around any issues. Plus, I want to be wicked awesome at my career, and thus I need to know what I can do better or what I did wrong. Period.
Finally, develop a thicker skin. Tactless and insensitive people are always going to exist, and you can’t avoid them forever. Take the constructive criticism they offer to improve yourself professionally and forget the rest of it. And if/when you are in a supervisor position, remember what you learned and pass on the wisdom.
How do you handle negative feedback in your professional life? Tell us your tips and tricks in the comments below or @litdarling!
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