Reyer: How to prepare for negative feedback

  • Article by: LIZ REYER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 3, 2012 - 6:28 PM

QI have a disappointed client, and have to call her to get more detailed feedback. I'm anxious about this, and would like some guidance on how to make this easier.

ABe open to her feedback and remember that it's not personal -- and it's a chance for you and your team to improve.

The inner game

Preparing yourself emotionally is the most important step. To start, find a quiet time and place to think this through. Take some deep breaths, letting any anxiety ease; after all, at that very moment, there is nothing to be anxious about. Continue until you feel calm and focused.

Then think about the reasons that getting negative feedback is having such a strong effect on you. This may carry back over years of experience with family, school, or other jobs. If so, consider all of the ways that the current situation is different, as well as the ways that you've grown as a person.

Think about the situation from her point of view. The more you can understand the reasons for her disappointment, the better you'll be able to manage the conversation, both in terms of guiding the content and managing your emotions. If you've had difficult conversations with her before, reflect on them to help you in the current interaction.

And ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" This may have to do with her comments: You might get scolded, or have to listen to perspectives that are hard to hear. Or it may have to do with your response: You may be concerned that you'll respond inappropriately and make the problem worse. Realistically, it's not a life or death situation. However, your fight or flight response needs to be reminded of that.

The outer game

Before you pick up the phone, do your planning. Outline your understanding of the reasons for her disappointment. Take an objective look at ways you and your team may have fallen short so that you can own up to them. Also note ways in which you think there may be misunderstandings; you may have an opportunity to clarify.

If she is not expecting to hear from you, consider sending an e-mail requesting some time to get feedback on the recent issue. This way, she'll have a chance to consider what she'd like to share, rather than being put on the spot. It also gives you a chance to be internally prepped for the interaction.

Before the conversation, take five minutes to breathe and get centered; this will help you keep any anxiety under control. Keep an eye on that while you're talking, as well, and take quiet deep breaths if your nerves are kicking in.

Remember that your goal in this conversation is to listen, and to ensure that she feels heard. It may be helpful to offer explanations, as long as they don't sound defensive or like you're making excuses. If you think that there are issues that she should own, save that for another conversation. And end the conversation with a sincere apology.

The last word

If you can manage your anxiety, you may find that this difficult conversation becomes a source of valuable feedback.

What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at

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