Receiving Negative Feedback: Separating the Message from the Messenger

Receiving Negative Feedback: Separating the Message from the Messenger

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every time someone wanted to give you feedback, they did so in a perfect way? They had perfect timing, the perfect tone of voice and perfect wording so that you would immediately know what to do and how to do it. Here imagine yourself singing, “Communications Kumbaya” while everyone holds hands. Well good luck!

Receiving negative feedback can be a difficult and uncomfortable skill to master. Feedback rarely comes wrapped perfectly with a bow. In fact, by the time feedback reaches you, the “plaintiff” may be put out, frustrated, and feeling double-done-with-a-cherry-on-top. Often, by time someone decides to share what is on their mind, they do so with a harsh tone, eye rolls and a lot of attitude.

Sometimes the message is delivered by a person you don’t like, don’t respect and don’t want to listen to. Or it may be that you just don’t want to interact with them at all. But they still have a message for you. This is when you would be wise to separate the message from the messenger.

One way to do this is to ask yourself, “If I just focus on the words they are saying, what message do I hear?” Also ask yourself if this feedback resembles any that you have heard before and what, if anything, you can do or say to change that person’s perception.

Another helpful tip to keep in mind when receiving negative feedback is that you should aim to be a Model Communicator, not a Mirror. So if someone delivers their feedback in a not-so-kind, not-so-patient manner, stay calm, open, and polite. Set the example and a friendly tone for the conversation.

By separating the content of the message from the delivery– or the deliverer– you will be better able to recognize and acknowledge the value of what Mr./Mrs. Feedback is trying to communicate to you.



Dr. Susanne Gaddis
The Communications Doctor

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