The Bad Feedback Myth

Here's how to handle it without getting upset.

Hero Images/ Getty Images
Hero Images/ Getty Images

By Rachael Bosch

Feedback is challenging. This is not a revelation for most of you, as research has shown that employers often actively avoid providing feedback. For those on the receiving end, the desire for feedback is clear, but once received, the ensuing internal debate on the worth of said feedback begins to rage.

[Related: How To Give Negative Performance Feedback, Part 1: When The Recipient Gets Defensive]

At Fringe, we often hear from clients that they have received “bad feedback.” A variety of factors can create this response, whether the feedback was incomplete or lacking in support, the information was delivered poorly, or the feedback provided was completely incorrect. Despite all of these roadblocks, our response to these clients (and our position on feedback more broadly) is:

There is no such thing as bad feedback.

Believe it or not, even feedback that is completely inaccurate is still useful to the receiver. So, how do you combat the negative gut response and make the most of that feedback? Here are our top tips.

Recognize the gift.

There’s an old saying that feedback is a gift. Indeed, self-awareness is one of the most sought-after traits in leaders across industries. Feedback of any kind can fast-track the process to self-awareness, but only if you are willing to listen and accept it.

[Related: Self-Awareness: Being More of What Makes You Great]

Focus on reflection.

When faced with constructive feedback, your brain instinctively goes into defensive mode. This response is reflected differently in each person; some will tend toward a fight response and become defensive and combative, while others prefer flight, returning to their office to stew over the feedback for the rest of the day. To pull yourself or others out of this defense mode, consciously move instead toward a reflective stance. Consider your role in the feedback, think about the other person’s perspective, and most importantly, keep your mindset positive.

Find the nugget.

In every bit of feedback, there is a nugget of gold. You can always find something to learn from. Find that nugget!

This premise gets challenged most frequently when the receiver believes that the feedback is completely inaccurate. To illustrate that the nugget is always there, I like to use the sweater story. Say you go to work one day and someone compliments you on your green sweater. You just received some innocuous feedback from them. The problem is: Your sweater is red. The feedback is factually incorrect, so your gut reaction might be to dismiss it. But think further. You just learned something about the other person. They may be colorblind, or distracted, or inattentive to detail. In this case, your nugget is learning something more about them. In a more high stakes business setting, you can apply the same process to look beyond inaccurate feedback.

Acknowledge the challenge.

When someone takes the time to provide feedback, remember that they likely stepped out of their comfort zone in order to do so. People don’t usually go out of their way to mislead others with feedback. If your gut is telling you this is the case, take a moment to think about the other person working through their own discomfort in order to give you the gift of feedback.

[Related: 4 Ways to Master your First-Time Manager Role #LikeABoss]

Keeping these four simple steps in mind the next time you get “bad feedback” can help you avoid spiraling into your natural fight or flight responses and move you closer to gaining self-awareness and personal growth.

Want to learn more about bringing feedback skills to your organization? Reach out to Managing Partner Rachael Bosch to talk about the options that might work best for you!

Originally published at

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