Negative Feedback – Use it or Waste it

Negative feedback can be very hard to take. I love feedback and sometimes I don’t. Feedback is vital if you want to improve any or all areas of your life. Organisations are fools if they ignore feedback.Negative Feedback is Constant

Individuals will take longer to develop if they ignore feedback, and maybe they will make no headway at all.

Use it or Lose it - Reject it at your peril because Feedback is one of the most powerful tools you have. So why do people run away from it. Get upset by it. Refuse to listen to it. Ignore it. And some people even fear it. This doesn’t make sense when it can be so powerful.

Your First Negative Feedback - Just for YOU!

It takes a lot of time, experience and research to create an article like this. Most people skim through them and usually only once. When this is done interpretation and understanding is bound to be flawed. Even worse, because it's mixed with existing beliefs and knowledge, it's automatically tainted by the reader. IS THIS YOU?

If anybody truely desires to improve their ability to give and receive feedback comfortably then it's going to take time and practice. This article and other articles recommended is just the beginning. The internet has so much more information on feedback. Anything less and you will always suffer with feedback.

There is some good news. It doesn't take long to get really good at it. Imagine what you could achieve if you put this effort into all the key areas of your life that you want to imrove.

Self Feedback Can Be Harmful

I was playing golf and this guy kept saying, I am useless, I am useless, I am useless. In the 19th hole, I took him aside and said, “Are you aware you are programming yourself with your own negative words?” Change the words and watch the difference. The next day he scored 6 under his handicap. A huge shift. He listened, and it worked. That’s how powerful feedback can be. I took a risk because most people have a problem with feedback and in this case it was worth it.

We All Want Something

We all dreamEverybody wants something. Even people who say they don’t. They really do. It’s possible they may not know what they want.

Every single human being is naturally driven by their values and beliefs, which can mean forwards or standing still. It can also put us in reverse. People strive towards what they want which can be somewhere between success and preferring to play safe.

Our personal drivers can be conscious and subconscious. We are not aware when a subconscious belief or value is driving our action.

Why Do People Struggle with Negative Feedback?

I say negative because that’s how so many people always take it. Even the positive can be taken negatively.

Why then do we have such a big problem with feedback? After all, feedback teaches us how we learn, what works, and what doesn’t.

Feedback is an essential ingredient of communication. And communication is the fuel that gets you what you want through relationships.

Feedback and Disclosure (Sharing) are the keys to building relationships. If we struggle with either or both then we have a problem. People will not be able to understand who we are.

Johari Window – A Recognised Model for CommunicationJohari Window

No, it’s not an eastern philosophy. It's named after the people who created it, Jo and Harry.

Look up the Johari Window on Google because it is a great model designed to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others and you’ll find plenty of information explaining how Feedback and Disclosure helps consolidate relationships.

We learn from people who are willing to disclose (share) information pertaining to them. Our understanding and knowledge expands when we are open to negative feedback. The same applies to positive feedback because this is also something people can have difficulty with. Bottom line we grow, and our relationships get stronger. Sad thing though, if one person struggles with hearing, or sharing, then nothing changes.

Explaining the Topic of Negative Feedback

This video focuses on receiving and giving feedback. Feedback is a vital part of listening which is covered in these articles:

The Art of Listening

You listen from your past

My definition of Feedback is someone giving their version of something which is true for them but may or may not be true for you. Quotes about listening:

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”

– Bill Gates

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

– Ken Blanchard

“There is no failure. Only feedback.”

– Robert Allen

“Examine what is said and not who speaks.”

– African proverb

“Failure is constructive feedback that tells you to try a different approach to accomplish what you want.”

― Idowu Koyenikan

Workshop Observations and Negative Feedback

On my workshops participants are encouraged to write feedback on every other participant. I tell them to write what works for them and what doesn’t about their fellow participants. I also provide tips on how to phrase their feedback. How you give feedback is important, but it doesn’t guarantee how it will be received. The feedback is collected every so often and passed to the people it concerns.

The participants are encouraged to share their feedback with everybody, and how they related to it. I found this helps people to absorb it more.

Over 20 years I have learnt that most people don’t know how to give feedback. Some people on my workshops must be continuously encouraged to write something. 90% of feedback is poorly phrased. A lot is not negative but it’s far from positive either. Many participants demonstrate limited observation and discernment skills.

There is value in being generous with your feedback and mindful of how you give it. Owning it and being authentic are crucial.

People say what you get equates to what you give, but only if people perceive it as authentic.

The World is Continuous Negative Feedback

When you live in a world that suggests you receive in relationship to what you give, it doesn’t make sense then to shy away from positive acknowledgements, which is also feedback and costs you nothing.

All day long the media are usually making negative statements about people or organisations. This is damaging because people continue to internalise a lot of what they hear. Not surprising when the media believe controversy sells.

They pick every possible angle on everything and make judgements on them. Try telling them about their mistakes and they will say you are crazy. I’ve done it so I know.

I believe feedback should be genuine not something you do because you have been told it brings rewards. The world is full of people who automatically give feedback inauthentically because they’ve been told it helps them get what they want. Authenticity is essential if you have any integrity. Most people can see through you when it isn’t genuine although they won’t feed that back to you.

A Game to Learn About CommunicationGroup playing a feedback game

I designed a game with simple questions. In one playing option you pick a question and answer it. Your fellow players numerically mark their assessment of your communication and you also mark yourself. At the end of the game each person writes feedback for each other participant.

The game is used on one of my workshops. It was invented to stimulate communication and listening. Feedback from participants rated the game very high.

Observations from Playing the Game

During the game many participants demonstrate their lack of discipline when it comes to listening. It doesn’t take long before they start talking and forget the idea of the game is to listen when someone is answering a question.

After the game I analyse their scoring and often find a lack of discernment in the participants communication abilities. Some scoring tells me that quite a few participants have very low self-esteem while others clearly overrate themselves. The level of scoring is often very poor, and most people seem to think everybody communicates at the same level which is obviously not true. How can people learn and develop when people are incapable or scared to give honest feedback in a supportive way?

I’ll repeat that because I believe it is so important. How can people learn and develop when people are incapable or scared to give honest feedback in a supportive way?

I once had to feedback to a participant about his scoring. The guy gave himself 9 out of 9 every time he answered a question. He gave his fellow players 5 or less out of 9. Interestingly he also gave the women a lot less points than the men. He had already proved his communication had plenty of room for improvement. I fed this information to him and asked him if his communication was 100% effective every time? The negative feedback was recieved well. In the second game his scoring changed completely and was more in alignment with the other players in his game and my observations.

People in New Groups Begin Quietly

Put a new group together for the first time and the silence is deafening. The same can apply with groups of people who know each other, although less likely. A skilled person knows exactly what to do to get people communicating.

Participants are told to listen throughout the game except when it’s their turn. If they want to query something anybody says, write it down, and ask when the session has ended. Yes, I know, not possible. When the group begins its silence.  It rarely takes long before the noise is thunderous. You’re right. Once people get going, listening is out the window, and they are talking over each other, and laughing.

Try and stop them. I don’t. Later they laugh when I tell them what happened and how quickly it happens. There was a session with HR managers. Remember they are the guardians of the organisation or company policies. When playing the game, they changed the rules. They were asked, what they do, when employees choose their own rules. The room went quiet. Fascinating because part of their role is giving employees feedback. How would they react if the response to their feedback was silence?

My Workshops Are Built on Feedback

From the beginning to the end of all my workshops the direction I take is dictated by the feedback I get and observe during the sessions. Whenever I speak to an audience, the feedback is important because it helps me maintain a direction that works with the audience and it’s rare that they realise this is happening.

Speaking to an Audience

Don.t waste feedbackIt’s easy to detect when a speaker is losing their audience. Mostly it’s because they are too focussed on what they are doing and fail to observe their audience’s demeanour or ignore it. The first task of any speaker is to engage their audience which doesn’t have to take long. A speaker can lose an audience at any time and observing the audience gives them the feedback which tells them they it's time to reconnect again. The opposite is clear to see as well when a speaker clearly picks up the feedback and works with it.

People Love Feedback when it’s Setup Correctly

The funny thing is, participants on my workshops love the feedback and rate it as one of the best things about the workshop. I am often asked by them to give more specific feedback all through the course. This happens because a safe environment has been created for them to explore themselves and they begin to see the value of feedback themselves. They have the opportunity to share their feedback with the rest of the group. I love to see the smiles on their faces when they read them.

Negative Feedback Exists All the Time

We are receiving feedback every second of the day. It may be through our eyes, ears, nose, thoughts sense feelings. It's non-stop, and we couldn’t possibly attend to it all because we would go insane. We just couldn’t cope. Fortunately, our brain does most of the filtering for us automatically. Actually, they are now saying our brain is capable of handling everything that comes at us, but we are a long way from developing the ability manage it all yet!

If you want to change anything in your life, then taking advantage of feedback is essential. Learn the skills required to let it sink in regardless of what you think of it or do with it. You must first learn to hear it. This is far easier than you think but it takes a little bit of practice.

You Never Know the Impact of Your Communication

A long time ago I was faciPeople call us nameslitating groups of long-term unemployed for the government. Each week every participant had to complete a job action plan. One day a person said at the beginning of a workshop that they will never ever work. I didn’t respond at all. The workshop process continued as usual and I always worked on giving it 100%. At the end I read the evaluations and this person had written: “I am going to work for the rest of my life”.

Amazing, I learnt by accepting what they said and not paying any attention to it, I had achieved a better result than expected. It's important to appreciate we never know how people will respond to our communication and this should never prevent anyone putting 100% into what they do.

Some People Fail to Hear Regardless

At the beginning of my workshops I always explain how the workshops are run. The participants are told there are no lectures. Everybody it informed how the workshop is run in anexperiential style and they are the content. It is explained the learning comes from each other. They learn my role as the facilitator is to create situations from which they will learn about themselves from each other and me.

This is also clearly explained in the pre-course marketing, assuming they read it. I also say if they want lectures they should go home now. Nobody has ever left. I also tell them at least one person will say on their feedback that they wanted more lectures. Because of this I always go overboard to ensure every single person is clear about the workshop and how it is run.

Yes – you guessed it – often one person puts more lectures on their evaluation. You can never guarantee how people will listen and whether your communication will always be effective, and some people are predictable.

I must be getting better though because I have noticed this rarely happens now.

Feedback is ImportantWe are always asked for feedback

These workshops have been running for more than 15 years and I get very high evaluation scores. I stopped being disappointed by the odd bad score long ago because I know it will not make an indent into my average score over the years.

The participant scores and comments are helping me and telling me more about them. It may help them if I point this out, but they are usually gone by the time I read their evaluations.

It helps if every person understands is feedback says as much about the person giving it but is not necessarily accurate about the person, they are giving it to.

The Simplest Feedback Can Make a Huge Impact

On another workshop there was someone who was 25 years in Human Resources as a manager. They learned about their inability to smile from their fellow participants. At the end of the workshop the person shared this with the whole group with a huge smile on their face. Three months after the workshop they emailed me to say the smile was now a habit and their world had changed for the better. A simple change can make a huge difference and it came from feedback.

The thing about feedback is to tell people how it is for you or what you observe. Sometimes it makes sense to first ask if you can say something because people have difficulty listening to feedback. Asking is one way to create listening.

Feeding One’s Experience of Advice on How To

I often get people at golf telling me what I should be doing and not what I am doing. How does anybody know what works for me unless they know me and my golf very well or if they are my coach? Yes. Tell them what you see but avoid telling people what they should be doing because you don’t know what will work for them. In golf for example there are so many possible solutions to a shot problem. This is a tough assignment for people like me because I love to help people and sometimes solutions are so simple. It's been quite a challenge to control this desire.

Never Play God

At the end of my workshops people often ask me how they should deal with certain situations of theirs. I always tell them I don’t know because I am not God. I ask them questions and give them questions to consider but refuse to tell them what to do because I don’t know. It is just as important for me to remember my feedback is true for me but not necessarily true for them.

Always Own Any Feedback You Give

When you give feedback, it’s much better if you own it. For example:

You are not making sense – becomes - I didn’t understand what you said


Your behaviour is annoying me – becomes - I am feeling uncomfortable


You are late – becomes - Can you be on time next time


You are terrific – becomes - I love it

Yes, positive feedback is also very powerful when you deliver from the I.

OWN YOUR FEEDBACK – So important.

Feedback is importantI am sure you appreciate what I am saying here. Always own what you say. This might seem silly or pointless, but I can assure you it is enormously powerful.

Receiving Negative Feedback

Receiving feedback is really simple. It's crucial to understand feedback is one person’s view and no more. It may or may not be true for you. If it upsets you then it's possibly something you might want to investigate further.

On my workshops I make it very clear that one person’s feedback says more about them than you. If two people say the same, then it is a possibility and three or more becomes a strong probability which you might want to investigate further especially if you have a negative reaction.

I always suggest writing down feedback in your journal and if the same feedback is coming at you on a regular basis then there is a high likelihood of some truth in it.

The question is – do you want people to experience you that way or not. If you don’t do something about it.

I repeat, If the feedback is negative and you don’t want people to think this about you then change, see a coach or do whatever it takes.

If it is positive and you have a reaction, then get used to it. Start believing in yourself and how people experience you.

How to Receive Negative Feedback

Just say Thank you
Just say Thank you!

Never refuse feedback.

Finally, the easy bit. How to receive feedback? Tennis is a game and if someone hits the ball to you, there is no game, if you don’t hit the ball back. Simple.

Life is a bit like this. If someone gives you feedback or tells you what to do – say Thank YOU! That’s it. Thank you nice and clear. Nothing else required. Practice this and you will eventually get how powerful it is. It works I can assure you.

What you do after that I have already told you and it is up to you.

Never refuse feedback. Receive it with a THANK YOU!

Positive and Negative Feedback is FREE

Remember – Feedback is free and a very powerful tool at your disposal. Use it or lose it! Reject it at your peril!

Check these links which add to the topic – Assertive Communication Skills:

Seven Keys to Effective Feedback

How to give and receive feedback effectively

Giving Feedback

5 Steps for Giving Productive Feedback

Busting Myths about Feedback: What Leaders Should Know

More Information

Other articles on effective communication skills and understanding yourself:

You are number One

Life is full of possibilities

You listen from your past

You are always responsible

Being a perfectionist

Your personal program

Choices are always available to you

Results you want are available to you


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