How to Accept Negative Feedback for Enhanced Work Performance

March 24th, 2024 – SkillCycle

Experiencing setbacks or not meeting expectations at work can be tough. However, employees across all levels must master how to accept negative feedback and learn how to detach from work. This skill ensures that neither failures nor critical evaluations impair their future performance.

Erin Korgie, Director of Product Management and Leadership Coach at SkillCycle, highlights the importance of understanding the intention behind feedback. “When you receive feedback, consider it a guide to your success. Learning how to accept negative feedback is about seeing it as a roadmap laid out by those invested in your growth,” she advises.

The aftermath of feedback heavily relies on the recipient’s emotional response and the organizational culture surrounding these discussions. Although these moments can spawn anxiety or fear, adopting strategies to accept negative feedback better can significantly enhance the employee experience, especially when facing performance challenges.

According to research by McKinsey, balancing personal development with performance is key for organizations aiming for excellence. By prioritizing both, companies can nurture talent and achieve superior financial results.

This guide on detaching from work to improve performance covers:

  • The essentials of learning how to accept negative feedback
  • Understanding the roots of performance anxiety at work
  • Positive approaches to processing negative feedback
  • The significance of continuous feedback in enhancing performance


Learning How to Accept Negative Feedback

Reacting defensively to feedback is a natural human response, yet employees need help to identify areas for improvement. In essence, feedback is a tool leaders use to direct employees toward betterment and future opportunities.

“Approaching feedback with curiosity and openness is beneficial,” Korgie suggests. “Believe that the feedback is a stepping stone towards improvement.”

To effectively detach from work after receiving critical feedback, consider the following strategies:

  • Understand the feedback’s intention.
  • Reflect on how the feedback aligns with your future goals.
  • View feedback as an opportunity for progress.
  • Recognize the confidence the feedback giver has in your potential.
  • Seek clarity by asking questions to understand the feedback better.

These steps can help create the emotional distance that is vital for the kind of healthy detachment that allows employees to value themselves separately from whatever their last project or assignment may have been (and its outcome).

Employees who can detach their self-worth from their performance are usually in a better position to accept and implement feedback from their managers. When that feedback is delivered consistently with the intent to help employees improve in the future, performance improves. 

“The key is to apply a growth mindset and think about how feedback can move you forward,” says Korgie. 

From dealing with a bad performance review to being put on a performance plan at work that triggers anxiety, most conversations trigger emotions in employees that are tough to set aside. However, learning to do so can be essential to moving through the conversation to the success that could lie ahead.

When employees learn how to accept negative feedback without tying it directly to their self-esteem, they are better positioned to implement constructive criticism. Consistent, well-intentioned feedback is instrumental in driving performance improvements.


Understanding Performance Anxiety at Work

While most people want to be successful at work, there can be a deeper reason why employees may have an emotional response to how their efforts are viewed at work. 

“At the heart of it all is a fear of failure,” says Korgie. “An employee may be afraid of disappointing their manager, of not reaching goals, or of not being able to meet financial needs.”

There’s a security factor that can influence how an employee views their work and what it might mean when that security is challenged. Often, responses that look like defensiveness or nervousness on the surface are just covering what is likely a fear response from your employee. 

When team members struggle to detach themselves from their work or current projects, they can be vulnerable to feelings of anxiety or get caught up in questioning their value. A bad performance review can feel like confirmation of these thoughts, and block forward progress.

Support for growth is a key element in nurturing worklife success for your employees. Providing actionable steps for improvement and reassuring staff of their value to the organization can go a long way toward easing their anxiety and frustration at work.


Processing Negative Feedback Positively

While it may not be enjoyable to receive negative or challenging feedback, there are strategies employees can use to process these conversations in productive ways. 

“Employees must pause to be aware of their emotional state so they can respond appropriately,” says Korgie. “Taking this time can help individuals step out of their own reactions and really see the feedback as a bridge to what’s next.”

In some circumstances, employees may be put on a performance plan at work. These plans should be created with the intent to help them improve their performance and succeed in your organization, and support to do so should be available. 

Contrary to popular opinion, being put on a performance plan doesn’t indicate that an employee is automatically nearing the end of their engagement with an employer. 

Encourage your employees to ask questions about challenging feedback so they understand how it affects their job performance and what action steps could be taken to improve. This step can also help them consider whether the feedback aligns with their values and goals and whether the path being offered will meet their personal and professional objectives.


The Role of Ongoing Feedback in Performance Improvement

Creating an environment where feedback is given more often can help your employees detach from work in healthy ways so discussions about performance improvement are less intimidating.

Annual reviews do little to inspire employees to improve their performance. Ongoing feedback cycles can make performance conversations less intimidating, flag misalignment earlier, and help employees succeed in their roles. 

“If feedback was provided consistently,” says Korgie. “Employees wouldn’t just know where they stand; they’d be deeply connected to the action steps they should be taking.”

Fostering a culture of feedback and facilitating manager-employee feedback conversations throughout the year are two of the six recommended ways to transform performance management and deliver what your employees actually need, according to Gartner.

Workplaces that allow individuals to receive constructive feedback and navigate their natural responses in a safe place can be helpful. With the right support and structures in place, both organizations and employees can work together to improve performance with more confidence and collaboration. 

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