What to do when you receive negative feedback

Have you ever been handed a double crap sandwich with a thick layer of rude sauce and thought to yourself, “What the heck did I do to deserve this?”

Last week, I told you about two soul-crushing words someone once shared with me. This week, I’m confessing that just two days ago I got a long form email from someone telling me why they were unsubscribing from my weekly emails. If this person had simply unsubscribed, I would have been sad, but I would have quickly moved on.

Instead I read — and re-read — the paragraphs of text she took the time to write to me.

Not fun.

If you’ve ever been subject to feedback, whether on a work evaluation, by clients or in a chain of comments on social media, you know how one bad apple ruins the bunch.

What I mean is, whenever someone takes the time to speak negatively about you, it can wipe away all of the “you’re awesome!” comments and feedback you’ve ever received. As humans, most of us are designed with a general intention of pleasing people and making them happy. Therefore, when a nasty comment or piece of negative feedback is received, it can often send us reeling for hours, if not days.

Four Tips And Best Practices For Handling Negative Feedback In Your Business

What to do when you get negative feedback:

Here are four tips for keeping your chin up, which I try to follow myself whenever I can manage to snap myself out of the doom and gloom.

Tip #1:
That nasty comment is one (or two) out of how many again? For every one or two people that think you suck, there are likely boatloads more that think you’re awesome. For every minute you spend focusing on the negative person or people, that’s time you’re not spending on your supporters and the people that care.

Tip #2:
You cannot please everyone. As a marketer, I believe this through my entire intellectual core. As a human, however, my natural instincts trick me into thinking differently sometimes. The truth is, in many instances, a nasty comment from a small handful of people is affirmation that you’re on the right track. Polarizing audiences, to an extent, can be the sign of a really strong connection with the people that “get you”.

Tip #3:
To respond is to be human. Whenever I get a comment like the one I got this week, I take the time to reply — and reply with kindness. This is really important. If you want your business and your brand to feel human, take the time to respond, even if it’s these six simple words: “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

It means a lot to people, even if they are “unsubscribing forever”.

Tip #4:
More often than not, people aren’t great at expressing what they truly mean when they’re upset, peeved or annoyed. Sometimes, they’re simply taking something out on you as an opportunity to vent (email and social media makes that simple dimple to do these days, too). If you truly care about this person and say, perhaps, they’re a client, here is a simple question you can say in response that’ll calm them down almost immediately:

Can we talk about this so I can better understand what you don’t like?”

When people vent frustration, they simply want to be heard. Many times, they misunderstood something or interpreted something differently than you intended, whether it be something you said, wrote or something you created and sold to them. And, if you care to try (and let’s face it, sometimes you don’t), you can win them back as fans if you just get them talking by asking the question above.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I have witnessed some of the best creative directors take monstrous stabs in the gut with words as colorful as “it doesn’t pop” or “I’m not sure what I don’t like about it, but I just don’t like it.” Then there’s always the insult masked as a question, “Can we try it in blue? My uncle’s favorite color is blue.”

The creative directors that got defensive or impatient always lost the conversation battle and got nowhere. The few that remained calm and gracefully guided the nasty complainer through a mediated dialogue to uncover the reasons why always came out on top.

Here’s what I did in response to that email:

The person that took the time to email me this week got an email reply in return. I was kind and gentle. I told her I was sad to see her go and asked her if there was anything else she could tell me so I could better understand. She hasn’t replied, and I don’t expect she will.

But that’s okay.

There’s something funny that seems to occur when you take negativity and push it back out into the world in the form of positivity. Positivity comes back tenfold from other sources — from the other readers and clients that “get you”. Try it. You’ll see.


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  1. Paul says

    Good point. Motivational speakers also say that we should avoid the word ‘problem’ and replace it with ‘challenge’, ‘opportunity’. It might be the case with the negative feedback

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