4 Ways to Help Feelers Respond to Negative Feedback at Work

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on May 18, 2016

There's no shortage of guidance about how to respond to negative feedback. Whether the criticism comes as a shock or is entirely expected, the same advice is consistently touted: Listen carefully, don't get defensive, and act on the feedback to improve your performance.

This is good advice. The problem is, it's aimed at Thinkers. When a Thinker is taken to task, their natural response is to weigh up the evidence and look for the logic behind the allegations. They might lash out initially, but if there's truth in the feedback, a Thinker will be inclined to buck up and act on the advice.

Feelers are more likely to feel the impact of negative feedback on an emotional level - like a punch in the gut. Unprepared, the Feeler may view the criticism as a personal attack and come away with the sense that their manager dislikes or disrespects them. This can rock their sense of identity and security, especially if they are being criticized by someone they regard as a friend.

So how can Feelers handle negative feedback with poise and strength? Here are some tips.

1. Separate the personal from the professional

Feelers tend to take criticism more personally than they should, and that's really where they go wrong. A recent study by Leadership IQ found that 26% of new hires fail because they can't accept negative feedback, and a further 23% fail because they're unable to understand and control the personal emotions that inevitably flare up in a stressful workplace environment. Bottom line is, if you view criticism as a condemnation of your character, you're headed for trouble.

For Feelers in particular, it is crucial to separate the negative feedback from your sense of self. For example, if your manager tells you that the report you wrote was not up to scratch, then the important thing is to see the feedback not as a criticism of you personally, but of the report itself. Your boss is giving you feedback about something you did, not about who you are as a person.

If you can learn to view the critique as just another data point, it becomes less personal. You might be able to react more calmly because a badly written report is never the end of the world.

2. Get to the truth using open-ended questions

In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to separate constructive criticism from feedback that does not possess a single grain of truth. Your manager might have your best interests at heart, but equally, she might be feeling pressurized and angry, and she might be taking those frustrations out on you. Not getting to the truth in this situation sets you both up for a dysfunctional relationship. Your boss will continue to have unrealistic expectations about your performance, and you will feel increasingly resentful and undervalued.

Asking open-ended questions is the best way for the both of you to learn what went wrong and how the problem can be avoided next time. Asking questions like, "Where do you think I went wrong on this task?" or "Could you give me an example of how you'd like me to handle this in the future?" gives you both the opportunity to assess the situation objectively. Hopefully, you can both build a clearer picture of what needs to happen next and end the conversation on good terms.

3. Don't over-apologize

Feelers value harmony, and their instinct is to do anything for a quiet life. Faced with negative feedback, you may be tempted to apologize repeatedly or bend over backwards to win the feedback-giver's approval. Grovelling like that? It's not the stuff that promotions are made of.

If the feedback is based on a specific behavior, apologize once - and that's it. You don't have to swear on the life of your firstborn that you'll never make the same mistake again. Your manager simply needs to know that you have listened to the feedback and that you will take the necessary corrective action. Don't make them sit through 30 minutes of rambling contrition - it undermines your professionalism.

4. Reframe the negative as a positive

It's normal to feel bad after receiving less-than-glowing feedback. So don't beat yourself up if you need to wallow for a while. But equally, try not to dwell on the negatives for too long. At some point, you have to figure out how to use the feedback to propel you to the next level of success.

Reframing means stepping back from the problem and looking at it through a different lens. If you can find a way to express the feedback as helpful, not hurtful, then you are more likely to view it as an opportunity and not a threat. Here's an example: My boss thinks I'm too talkative because I connect with my co-workers all the time. What I actually am, is a great communicator. If I can just learn to schedule my conversations in a productive way, I can really help the team to function harmoniously and foster positive relationships that will benefit the organization.

According to one recent study, people who reframe a negative behavior end up performing significantly better on the tasks where they might otherwise fall short on. For Feelers who get caught up in "I'm not good enough" thoughts, reframing is a valuable skill to master as it helps you accept your full potential and reduces the chances of negative feedback getting in the way of your goals.

Molly Owens

Molly Owens is the founder and CEO of Truity. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and holds a master's degree in counseling psychology. She began working with personality assessments in 2006, and in 2012 founded Truity with the goal of making robust, scientifically validated assessments more accessible and user-friendly.

Molly is an ENTP and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she enjoys elaborate cooking projects, murder mysteries, and exploring with her husband and son.

More from this author...
About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


Willie (not verified) says...

Hi Molly,

I would like to use your blog somehow with my client base. Advice?

Blair Hollis M.A. GCDF BCCC

Truity says...

Hi Blair, Thanks for commenting! I'd certainly be happy for you to share posts with your clients. If you're on our mailing list, you'll be notified as they come out, and you can pass on relevant articles to your clients.

Artemesia (not verified) says...

This is simple but very helpful advice. I have been guilty of all these things (especially apologising for a quiet life). I find the idea of reframing particularly helpful and I'm sure I will be using it soon. Thank you.

Rhonda Horton (not verified) says...

At my job, my co-workers feel that I think I am better than them. Namely because I am going to college. I define myself as being confident in appearance and skill. Every now and again, my boss reinforces guidelines from the employee handbook about attire (no yoga pants). When I did where yoga pants, I covered my backside and remained professional. My problem is what is the difference between yoga pants and tight jeans? My boss continues to wear tight jeans and doesn't cover her backside. I kept my mouth shut, and re-arranged my wardrobe to suit the guidelines. My team lead continuously comments on my attire, the colors I wear, and even the food I warm up. I figured it was petty so I refrained any response thinking she would stop. The CEO of the company visits the office this week. We have geese and baby geese were just born and I was excited about it, my team lead blurts out, "well I put it on Yammer" (it is company website equivalent to Facebook. I replied, "I don't get on Yammer." I don't know if it was build up of past responses but I had to say it. Now I feel a need to talk to my team lead and discuss with her the incident and another part of me is relieved that there is no conversation because her comments won't be warranted. I did briefly discuss this with my boss (which the team and boss are friends) and she recommends talking it out. This is where I need advice on if or how I approach this or if I even need to. I don't want to appear to be wrong or right but I would like to address the incidents that lead up to this moment. Help!!!!!!

Andelene (not verified) says...

Thank you for these very helpful tips. Can you please also help us with tips concerning the everyday, social life? Hurtful things that have been said and done to me almost 9 years ago, still haunt me today. I have forgiven them, but I still can't get rid of the hurting emotions.

Guest (not verified) says...

Thanks for this post. I especially like the advice on asking open ended questions about where things went wrong. My frustration is when the critic doesn't answer those kinds of questions well, or dodges them, or I think the critic doesn't know what they're talking about. What do you recommend for those kinds of situations?

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