How to Constructively Deal with Negative (and Positive) Feedback

Dan Rockwell writes a blog called Leadership Freak. One of his recent posts listed four steps for dealing with negative feedback.

  1. Expect to be held to high standards.
  2. Public behaviors may receive public feedback.
  3. Say, “Thank you,” when receiving negative feedback.
  4. Choose to learn, not defend, when someone has an issue.

This is great common sense advice. I tell members of my career mentoring site that they are never going to please everybody.

No matter how good you are, someone will find fault. Dan’s third point, say “Thank you” is right on. Tweet 74 in my career advice book Success Tweets echoes this advice. “When someone compliments you just say, “Thank you.” When someone criticizes you, say “Thank you, I’ll work on that.”

Receiving feedback graciously can be a difficult skill to master. I think it all comes down to self-confidence.  Confident people accept positive feedback in the spirit in which it was given. They don’t discount it. On the other hand, confident people accept negative feedback for what it is – the opinion of one other person. They listen to what is being said, and then decide what – if anything – they’re going to do about the feedback.

Whether it’s positive or negative, confident people respond to feedback in a gracious manner.

If your confidence or self-esteem is a little low, you might have a tendency to respond to positive feedback inappropriately. When someone compliments you, do you say something like, “It was nothing,” or “Anybody could have done it,” or “It really wasn’t that big of a deal?” This is unassertive behavior and it marks you as someone lacking in confidence.

Besides that, it discounts the feedback and the person who is giving it to you. When someone compliments you on a job well done and you say, “It was nothing,” you’re questioning the other person’s judgment. You may not realize it but you are. He or she took the time to compliment you. The appropriate response is, “Thank you.” You might want to add something like, “Your feedback means a lot to me. I value your opinion.”

Don’t discount yourself, your accomplishment, or the other person by minimizing what you accomplished. On the other hand, don’t overinflate the feedback. Take it for what it is: a comment on something you did well.

Negative feedback can be a little more difficult to take. You can feel attacked personally. My best career advice is to not take negative feedback personally. Don Miguel Ruiz’s little book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, is a favorite of mine. “Don’t take anything personally” is the second of the four agreements.

Don Miguel Ruiz explains it this way…

“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

This is great advice for accepting negative feedback. Remember that feedback is a projection of the other person’s reality. It may be correct. It may be incorrect. That’s why I always advise members of my career mentoring site to respond to negative feedback by saying, “Thank you. I’ll work on that.” By saying this, you are acknowledging the feedback and the person who provided it. You are not committing to doing anything specific about it.

You should think about the feedback and then decide what to do. It may be nothing, or you may choose to make some significant changes in your behavior. The important career success coach point here is that you get to decide how you will deal with feedback.

Here are some common sense coach points on what to do when you’re presented with negative feedback…

  • Avoid being defensive – don’t try to justify what you did or didn’t do. Listen to understand. Ask questions to make sure you completely understand what the other person is saying.
  • Don’t fight – accept the feedback, even if it makes you angry. Take time to reflect. You can always have another conversation if you think the feedback was inaccurate or unfair. You’ll be calm, and in a better position to make your points.
  • Listen attentively – make sure the other person knows you’re paying attention by your body language, facial expression and questions.

Your Career mentor,


PS: I think the Four Agreements are powerful. Here is a quick synopsis of all four…

  • Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
  • Don’t Take Anything Personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
  • Don’t Make Assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
  • Always Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

PPS: I write this blog to help people create the life and career success they want and deserve. Now I’m going one step further. I’ve created a membership site in which I’ve pulled together my best thoughts on success. And, as a reader of this blog, you can become a member for free. Just go to to claim your free membership. You’ll be joining a vibrant and growing community of success minded professionals. I hope to see you there.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.