How to respond to negative feedback from your boss

How to respond to negative feedback from your boss

Is your boss criticising you or giving you negative feedback? It’s never nice to encounter a difficult situation at work, or to feel like your efforts are not being appreciated, but it’s important to recognise this as a sign that it’s time to take stock and perhaps make some changes. 

Help: My boss thinks I can’t do anything right!

First of all, you need to ask yourself: what happened to make your boss criticise you? Is it linked to your behaviour and performance or to you as a person and your personality? 

Obviously, the second should not even be a point of discussion, but life often shows otherwise. If your boss doesn’t value you as a person, the brutal truth is that it's time to look for a new boss, instead of trying to change their mind.

If it is linked to your specific behaviour and performance, you can work on it. You just need to dig a little deeper into the criticism. The best way to go about it is to start by doing the following:

Time to think about your own behaviour

First: some reflection is needed.  Start by reviewing things that you do well at work: look at your successful projects, your strengths, achievements and all the good work you have done up until now. 

Then reflect on the things that you feel you can and want to improve on: go through the things that didn’t go so well, for example, lost clients, project delays, conflicts with colleagues, and so on. Think of actions you could take to improve the aspects of your work that you are not satisfied with.

Once you have done your “homework", go talk to your boss. Having done the work partially yourself, you should now know, more or less, what they are going to say. This way you diminish your own brain’s threat reaction that could result in feeling anxious, lacking confidence, and being defensive.

Ask your boss for feedback

This is your opportunity to ask for some feedback from your boss, and it needs to be specific. If they say that you could improve your communications skills, they are not being specific enough. You need to ask them to provide you with a specific example of when you did not communicate in an effective way. What type of behaviour related to your communication skills do they want to see?

The next step is to check how it actually corresponds to the improvement points you have noted down for yourself. They are probably aligned. In this case, you could already propose improvements you have thought about and ask for their input. However, your boss might mention things you haven’t come up with yourself (your blind spot). Nothing to panic about! If you can’t think of any actions on the spot, ask for their opinion.

If you feel you need time to process the feedback and want to come up with your own solutions, do not hesitate to do that. Clear communication is key, and it is better that you ask for “thinking time” before agreeing to something you will not do anyway. This will only create resentment and further problems.

When to stay, and when to go

In order to learn and grow, we need to be surrounded by supportive people who, when there is a problem, offer us constructive feedback. Such feedback needs to be based on the assumption that it is given to let the other person grow and not to judge that person.

So, these are my key messages:

  • If it is personal, maybe it is time to move on and not waste your energy
  • If it is behaviour or performance-based, do the following: Reflect on your performance, the good and the bad, and ask for feedback so you can learn and grow

Have you ever had a boss that was not happy with your performance? What did you do about it?

Dorota Klop-Sowinska


Dorota Klop-Sowinska

Official Member of Forbes Coaches Council. I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am the author of the book Career Jump! How to Successfully Change Your Professional Path...

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