How the Negative can be the Biggest Positive

There seems to be a big emphasis in modern society on straying away from negative feedback. Without getting too political, I do feel it’s a somewhat strange notion as there is some use to feedback which might tell you different than that you are perfect at everything, without any areas for improvement. That’s not to say I believe that people deserve more scathing treatment in their everyday pursuits, but that I see an upside to the age old idea of ‘constructive criticism’. Getting advice on how to improve can help you, well, get better so what’s the harm in taking notes from others that are trying to help you?


In that vein, I was curious to find, during the course of my usual wider reading, an interesting snippet in the Harvard Business Review entitled Make It Easier for Your Boss to Give You Negative Feedback. The piece focused on how one could help to create an environment where a higher up might be more comfortable in giving tips on improvement in order to maximise a team member’s potential in their work. I was interested in this phenomenon, but I did wonder if everybody in the workplace would be prepared to receive such feedback or if it would appear instead as added pressure from those above; as such, I asked. From talks with some of my executive coaching clients, I established that most of their previous employers did not have a formalised structure for such feedback and that the little received was informal and came once in a blue moon; due to this, they confessed that a sudden upturn for constructive criticism would appear odd and that they might not be ready for such a change in the workplace dynamic. That got me thinking: how could we encourage the reception of good, working feedback so that everyone involved in the process could benefit? What advice could I give, from my personal experience, in aiding this sort of uncodified performance review?


I would boil down my ideas to three main sections: listening, thinking and questioning:


· Listening: be openminded when approaching a situation when you might receive feedback. True constructive criticism isn’t intended to be hurtful, but instead to help you become the best possible you so turn up ready to listen; it’s for your benefit as well as anybody else’s so be humble and accept the opportunity to learn.

· Thinking: take the time to really think about the feedback you’ve received and process the information. Is there any point having the feedback process at all if you’re not going to actively engage in it?

· Questioning: take the time to make sure you have understood the information, clarify any point you might not have understood and also thank the person providing feedback for their help in pushing you on to future success.


These points are obviously not the be all and end all in preparing yourself to receive what could be deemed negative feedback, but with the right attitude and work ethic, anybody can turn their weaknesses into strengths; I know I’ve certainly seen a fabulous change around from some of the executives and technical professionals I have coached and I believe this system has had some part to play in their development. At the end of the day, your business benefits when you’re willing to go the extra mile, but why not learn to go the extra mile on your competitor by being the best you can be? Now’s the time to do it! I would wager there’s always someone out there ready to help you, but it’s down to you to take that next step in getting the ball rolling.

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