How to Handle Negative Feedback at Work

A woman sits at a laptop on a white desk with flowers

No one likes receiving negative feedback at work. 

Whether it’s a poor performance review or a critique on a project, negative feedback can make you doubt your talent, your skills, and even your role in the office. Even when you accept it as part of the process, it can still hurt in the moment.

But it’s important to remember that perfection doesn’t exist—especially in the workplace. You’re bound to make mistakes, have lapses in judgment, and drop the ball on occasion. And although it doesn’t seem like it at the time, negative feedback is crucial to your career and your future success.

Why negative feedback is useful 

While positive feedback is great and encourages us to keep doing what we’re doing, constructive feedback is what helps you understand where you need to improve.

It’s only natural that you’re going to have blind spots in your own performance. But negative feedback offers you a chance to see yourself from a different vantage point. It shines a light on the areas in your career that could use some extra work. So by reframing negative feedback as a potential learning opportunity, you can use it to your advantage and grow in your role. 

Here’s how to handle negative feedback and use it to achieve success. 

This is hard for your manager, too

When getting negative feedback, it’s helpful to remind yourself that your manager doesn’t like giving negative feedback either. 

This is probably a challenging situation for them and one they would like to avoid. But a good manager knows that no one is going to benefit if you continue working at a level that is not your best. Ultimately, the feedback is coming from a supportive place and your manager wants you to grow and thrive in your role. 

Understanding where your manager is coming from will help you process the negative feedback and take it less personally. 

Process the feedback–in a professional way

During a negative performance review, you don’t have to feign enthusiasm and positivity if you’re not feeling it. But you should still make an effort to respond in a professional way

Here’s how:

Let yourself breathe and take in the information. Try not to rush yourself or say something in the heat of the moment. 

Then, acknowledge what’s been said and state your intention for moving forward. 


“Thanks so much for letting me know. I will definitely take that into account next time.” 

“Thanks for telling me about X. I’ll be more mindful about that in the future.”

It’s also important to be aware of your non-verbal communication when receiving feedback. For example, little things like crossing your arms or sighing can be interpreted as rude, and undermine your professionalism.

Naturally, you’re going to feel vulnerable when receiving feedback, and it can manifest in physical behavior. In this situation, it might help to nod along, or clasp your hands in your lap, or write down notes in a notebook—this will give your hands something to do while still appearing respectful. 

Feel your feelings

Later on, when you have a chance to be alone, let yourself feel your feelings.

You might experience a range of emotions. Anger. Resentment. Disappointment. Shame. Bottling up your feelings will only make you feel more raw. But acknowledging your feelings can help you release some tension and feel better.  

If you can’t leave the office, head to the restroom for a few minutes to decompress.  If you have fifteen minutes, go outside and take a walk around the block. Just walking around and taking yourself out of the office environment can help you recenter. 

Do something restorative when you get home

After receiving difficult feedback, it’s easy to equate your self worth with the feedback that was received. So when you leave the office, it’s important that you do something restorative to help you regain strength and clarity. 

  • Journal writing. Journal writing is a great way to connect with your feelings and process the situation more clearly. Take ten or fifteen minutes to write in your journal and get all of your pent-up feelings out of your system. 
  • Recite an empowering mantra. When you get a negative comment, you might be tempted to think that you have no other good qualities. Recite an affirmative mantra to remind yourself that you are amazing, and that you are more than just one person’s feedback. 

Remember to be extra kind and gentle to yourself. By taking care of your internal needs, you will then be able to apply the feedback in a productive way, and learn from it. 

Identify what you need to work on

Now that you’ve had some time to process the negative feedback, you can then reflect on the critique more objectively.  

When analyzing feedback, you’ll want to distill the feedback to its main points and identify the specific area or areas you need to work on.

Feedback: You are missing deadlines and showing up late to work. 
Areas to work on: Time management and organization.

Feedback: You are talking over coworkers and dismissing their ideas in meetings. 
Areas to work on: Communication skills and working as a team. 
If you’re not sure what areas you need to work on, schedule a one-on-one meeting with your boss and ask follow-up questions. You can say: “I really appreciate the feedback you gave me and I’d really like to work on it. I’d love to get your insight on what areas you think I can improve.” 

Create an action plan for improvement 

Knowing that you have room for improvement isn’t enough. You need to create a solid action plan to see real change. 

So if you’d like to improve your time management skills, then make a list of all the possible action steps you can take. For example, you can conduct a time audit to see where your time is going or try different time management techniques like the Pomodoro Method and task batching.

Do a check-in at the end of each week and month to see how you’re managing your time. After a few months, you should see a noticeable improvement. 

At your next performance review, you can bring up the previous negative feedback you received and share how you’ve incorporated the feedback and improved. Your manager will be so impressed that you were able to apply the negative feedback in a positive way.

Written by JiJi Lee.

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