Why you want bad feedback. Really

So, you’ve had some bad feedback from your manager and it’s making you feel rubbish. Yes, you wanted some constructive comments but you really didn’t realise it would be quite so devastating. Now you just want to curl up in a ball and disappear.

I know how you feel

In my last newsletter, I linked my subscribers to an article I wrote for the Guardian on-line. I was thrilled when it was published, but then, within minutes, the first daft comment appeared. Then more, some quite offensive. At #no 17 I stopped reading. Few were adding anything useful, or constructive.

I’ve got to tell you, it felt bad. In those first few moments I promised myself I’d never write another word. I’d keep my opinions private. I’d stay safe in my comfort zone. I decided to have a duvet day.

Feedback can be hard to take 

In my one-to-one coaching with third sector professionals we spend time looking at how to accept challenging feedback and use it positively. Feedback can knock your confidence and be very hard to take on board. Negative feedback creates an emotional reaction which tends to make you defensive and this is especially true if it’s not delivered well. (See my blog here for how to give feedback so it will be heard.)

But feedback is actually the Number 1 way of improving performance at work. Praise is nice. Sure. But for those tough enough to come out of the self-pity (and the duvet), pause, acknowledge and learn from it, more challenging feedback is a priceless gift. Everything you need to know to improve and grow professionally and personally is right there. Don’t ignore it!

So what did I do?

Well, eventually I emerged from my duvet and cautiously returned to the Guardian site. I found that after the negative early risers had had their say, others were beginning to like it and comment positively. I saw the Shares began steadily to rise.

The next day I was ready to learn from it. I’m not sure there was a lot the comments could teach me – I think it was probably more about them than me, as they say – but there was still learning here.

Three important questions

So, I took myself off somewhere quiet and asked myself three questions. I encourage my coaching clients to think about these when they’ve been hit with some close-to-the-bone feedback. Even if the feedback wasn’t given especially well, these questions will help you to coach yourself.

1. If I choose to learn from this feedback what can I learn about myself?

2. If I choose to learn from this feedback what can I learn about other people?

3. If I choose to learn from this feedback what would I do differently next time?


Some of the things I learned were…

That I can be quite a softie (I think I probably knew that already). That it felt good to be being published and that I want to do more. That if I want to make a difference I need to be ‘out there’, however hard it is. That some people can be twerps. That if you write for a national newspaper you will get crazy comments. That not everyone is going to like what I write. That lots of third sector people do (419 Shares can’t be wrong).

Oh, and next time, I won’t be reading the Comments until a good 24 hours have gone by.

Over to you

So, how are you at taking feedback? Do you see it as a golden opportunity to learn or are you more likely to go all defensive on the giver? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so do leave a comment in the Reply section below.

What next?

Giving and receiving feedback are key skills to develop if you’re serious about your professional growth. For coaching support for you (or a team member) call 0208 772 7808 or email me here. I’m booking for summer coaching now and have a few spaces left.






8 responses to “Why you want bad feedback. Really”

  1. angela avatar

    Thanks for this Katie – it is very true that you can learn from ‘feedback’ in whatever shape it comes, whether it’s positive and appreciative of what you’ve done, or negative, or just the kind of random comments people give when it’s a public forum (e.g. an online blog).

    I have had experiences recently of difficult situations where at first I felt offended by a co-worker’s feedback on my work, but later realised I had something to learn from those comments. I may not have liked it, but I learned a few things.

    It is genuinely a real gift if you can learn not to take things too personally, or to get offended at negative comments about your work – but instead to sift through for anything you can ‘get’ from it. It is also a skill (if that’s the right word!) that you can teach yourself – and a very valuable one.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  2. Richard avatar

    Yes, thanks from me as well for this Katie. <> – I could almost see my life as a series of emotional learning experiences, getting over the difficult internal reactions to criticism and then allowing myself to understand and act on the learning that is available. I know that if I could have managed to be better at this from an earlier age I would have been able to learn and accomplish much more. However, sadly, my skill levels in this area have taken a long time to develop and some parts of me are probably still rather infantile in having really difficult internal tantrums if I think someone might be saying something bad. Even though experience shows that it is going to be valuable.

    It is interesting and challenging for me to see the same process going on for my son. And then start to wonder how we can find ways of allowing ourselves to learn like this on a wider scale.

  3. Katie Duckworth avatar
    Katie Duckworth

    Thanks, Angela. I’m so glad it resonated with you. Yes, sometimes you need to sleep on critical feedback before you can learn from it, once all the immediate feelings have calmed down a bit.

  4. Katie Duckworth avatar
    Katie Duckworth

    Thanks for commenting, Richard. It certainly is a life long process – great you are starting your son off young!

  5. Corrina Gordon-Barnes avatar

    Love this story, Katie, and the learning you took from it – and are sharing.

    Your “don’t read comments for 24 hours” new policy reminded me of one of mine.

    When I first started leading workshops, I’d feel the buzz at the end of the day… and then straight after the workshop read the feedback forms, and even the tiniest negative feedback could deflate that great feeling.

    I realised that wasn’t working for me, so implemented a new policy:

    1) Stay in the afterglow. Allow myself to feel good, remember the highlights, stay smiling.

    2) A little later, take time to write my OWN feedback to myself, balancing where I felt I did a great job with where I saw I could develop the workshop and my leadership for the next time

    3) Read the participants’ feedback.

    By setting up this foundation, and allowing myself the first two steps first, I was then open to taking in the participants’ feedback and getting the most value from it.

  6. Katie Duckworth avatar
    Katie Duckworth

    Thank you, Corrina. I’m thrilled you liked it so much. I’ve got a similar strategy now for workshop feedback – it used to fell me utterly for days. I’ve also learned that however brilliant my workshop might be, however much planning and thought I have put into it, there will always be a couple of people for whom it doesn’t resonate, and that is actually Ok.

  7. Susan avatar

    Katie, this is so powerful. Thank you for sharing your journey so openly and also for these very helpful tips to navigate receiving negative feedback. I share your vision of wanting to put myself “out there” and know that all sorts of people will have their own unique response. Getting a better grasp on how to grow from it is so welcome and truly essential.

  8. Katie Duckworth avatar
    Katie Duckworth

    Thank you, Susan. I love your very generous description of ‘unique response’!