Negative Feedback: How to Handle It and How to Use It 

Coworkers in suits talking by an office window.

Editor’s note: APH Staff updated the following blog in November 2023.  

Are you familiar with “feedback”? It’s when someone, such as a teacher or manager tells you what they think about your performance or progress. Feedback is sometimes called constructive criticism. 

If you are in the academic world, feedback may come from a teacher, professor, or advisor. If you are in the professional world, feedback comes from a manager, a mentor, or a colleague. Heck, we might as well throw friends and family members in too. Whether positive or negative, feedback is important for development at work or school. 

Negative Feedback 

Getting negative feedback from any of those mentioned above can be hard to handle, but it may be necessary to move forward. It is the kind of feedback resulting from failed tests, paperwork mistakes, tardiness to meetings, or missed appointments. That is just scratching the surface, though. Everyone experiences negative feedback. Combine that with low vision or blindness; it can feel much worse. 

In my experience, negative feedback has been the hardest to accept. I would feel sorry for myself. I used my vision loss as a crutch. The real problem centered on the misunderstanding of negative feedback in my own mind and how it was holding back my career development. Instead of handling it professionally, I took it personally. Many years would pass before understanding negative feedback had value.  

The good news is you can develop your ability to handle and to use negative feedback to drive your career and other areas of life forward. 

Handling Negative Feedback 

It is easy to get hurt, angry, embarrassed, or flustered when your manager addresses a flaw, an error, or a shortcoming in your job performance. Emotions can run high, but maintain your composure and respond as a professional. Try this instead: 

  • Be Calm — Before sitting in your manager’s office, take a few deep breaths and let as much tension melt away as possible. Anxiety tends to show up when a manager asks to speak with you.  
  • Be mentally and physically present — In other words, focus on the moment at hand. Direct your attention to the person speaking. Nothing else is as important as this moment for your career. Not even those social media updates or lingering thoughts of doubt! 
  •  Be Rational — Turn on your critical thinking skills. Do your best to clarify what happened or led to this moment. Engage your manager with polite questions. Seek to understand what caused the problem.  
  •  Be Grateful — Weird, right? Show your manager some gratitude. Thank them for the feedback. Assure them you will work towards improvement. Finish by asking if it is okay to seek further guidance shortly.  

Channeling Negative Feedback 

Now that you have weathered the storm, it is time to demonstrate your professional self. Do not go back to your workspace and hope it never happens again. Instead, employ the following: 

  • Be Brave — Recipients of negative feedback may clam up around their managers or coworkers. Mistakes happen to everyone. Don’t allow them to haunt you day after day. Go about your work and be assertive. 
  • Be Growth-Minded — Telling yourself you cannot improve is self-defeating. Develop a growth mindset instead. We can all improve our skills and our competencies. 

It takes work, though. Sometimes really hard work. That is the essence of a career. Accept this truth and move it forward.  

  •  Be Resourceful — Lead yourself. Do not wait for anyone else to solve your problem. Brainstorm some solutions to cut down the risk of errors and improve your performance.  

Negative feedback is hard to hear and accept. At times, I felt like managers did not understand me or the difficulties of my vision loss. However, the day came when I understood blindness could no longer be the scapegoat for my lagging performance. 

Learning to handle and use negative feedback changed my outlook for the future. It forced me to be responsible, brave, growth-minded, and resourceful, changing the course of my career. I know it can work for you too!