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5 steps to staying positive after negative feedback

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Christina Adamidou | Mar 8, 2018 | Photograph by: Rawpixel

We’ve all been there: overthinking a bad review, obsessing over a co-worker’s comment, or feeling anger and resentment towards a friend who criticised our actions. We replay the scene again and again. We keep thinking about the things we could have done better. The negative feelings consume us and make it difficult to focus our attention on anything else.

If you’ve ever spiralled into a similar loop of negativity and anxiety after receiving negative feedback, you may have a culprit to blame: evolution.

Humans are wired for negative bias, according to Rick Handson, Ph.D., a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. According to his best-selling book, our brain has a natural instinct to react more strongly to negative experiences than to positive ones. This negativity bias is what helped our ancestors to become more aware of high-risk situations and make more intelligent decisions to overcome them, leading to their survival and evolution.

In today’s modern world, this explains why receiving information we don’t want to hear whether from a doctor, colleague, friend, or partner tends to be a lot more disruptive, impactful, and memorable than when we receive positive feedback.

Despite our biology and insecurities, there are ways to break through this resistance.

We’ve rounded four key things to consider that will help you deal with negative criticism in a more constructive way. Thinking about these pointers carefully and moving them to the front of your mind will help you adopt a more positive mind-set the next time you receive negative feedback.


1. Take a deep breath

You’ve probably been advised to take a deep breath before responding to a bad review. There’s science to prove this trick: feeling worried and stressed activates our amygdala, which is the part of our brain that’s responsible for our emotions and instincts. This then triggers the brain to block our prefrontal cortex, which prevents us from making clear decisions. Thankfully, deep breathing can solve this, because the amygdala is soothed with oxygen.

So, the next time you feel those negative emotions come on, take a few deep breaths and you’ll be surprised by the difference it makes.


2. Listen intently

Next, stay silent and listen to the feedback. But how does one actually do that in the heat of the moment? How do you keep control and master the situation?

The trick is to first be aware of what exactly you should be listening for. For starters, is what is being said a fact or an opinion? Not spell-checking your article is a fact. That you ran a poor presentation is an opinion. Making the difference between fact and opinion helps you respond more rationally and calmly.

Ask yourself: was it accurate feedback? Is there some truth in the content of what he or she was saying? The reason why we get so bothered by negative criticism is often because of the way it was delivered. “It’s not what he said, it’s the way he said it.”

Few people are good at giving negative feedback in a way that the recipient feels comfortable to accept and learn from and this can lead to many misunderstandings and difficult situations. Keeping this in mind helps you determine whether the feedback given was intended to be motivating.


3. Discover the motive

Was this feedback coming from a caring supervisor who you can trust, or an egotistical colleague who’s only interested in outdoing his competitor?

Consider the source and the motive behind what is being said, so you can evaluate whether the negative feedback deserves your attention or whether you should take it with a grain of salt.

Elon Musk, a big advocate of actively seeking out negative feedback, believes that that the most constructive criticism comes from people who you trust, so the first people to reach out to should be your family and friends, before turning to co-workers and bosses.


4. Don’t get defensive

It’s natural to want to defend yourself, especially when you feel the negative comment is uncalled for, petty, or inaccurate. While the other person is giving us their honest opinion, we are too often busy looking for faulty conclusions or distorted points to discount their argument and defend our actions. But even if the feedback is factually incorrect, it’s not in your interest to become defensive and doing so will only make the situation worse. Instead, start by asking questions like, “It seems to me like you feel….” This shows the person you want to understand what he or she is saying. It also gives the other person a second chance to clearly articulate his or her message, so you can evaluate it better without jumping to conclusions.


5. It’s not personal

It can be hard for Type A overachievers to take criticism without making direct links to their self-worth. Sometimes, even the simplest comments can easily lead to a series of self-incriminating thoughts and feelings of self-doubt.

The next time you feel those negative thoughts coming on, try to detach your self-worth from the feedback you receive. Register that the person is giving you feedback on a particular topic and not discrediting you as a person or as a professional. This will allow you to consciously return to a more positive frame of mind and put that negative inner monologue to rest. Only then will you embrace criticism as an opportunity to improve, grow, and realise your full potential.




Natalie Hughes founded Miss Independent in 2017, to educate and mentor women and help them make their best career and business decisions. Natalie is an experienced business woman and non-executive company director focused on organisational design, strategy, growth and innovation. Her goal is to help you think differently, work differently and feel in control of your own destiny.

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