Why women need to value negative feedback

by | Apr 23, 2019

How to turn negative feedback in your favour

Negative feedback should be seen as a chance to improve, rather than a personal attack. You just need to learn how best to handle it with these tips.

We all crave recognition and a sense we are valued. Lack of recognition is one of the prime causes of burnout in both men and women. But what happens if we get negative feedback, rather than the positive affirmation we are looking for?

Defensive response

For most of us, being on the receiving end of negative feedback produces a primal reaction to protect ourselves. You might feel your adrenalin spike when your pulse rate rises, your colour flushes as your blood pressure increases which might trigger emotions such as resentment, rejection, sadness or even anger and fear. You become defensive as your brain processes in a nano-second whether you intend to freeze, flight or fight.

There are 3 sub-plots in this context

But for women getting feedback is more complex than for their male co-workers.

1. How women process feedback

Research from Shastry Shurchkov and her co-authors from Wellesley College in 2018  suggests:

“The analysis of gender differences in assigning responsibility for particular outcomes, [is] the so-called attribution of feedback. It sheds new light on potential reasons behind the persistent gender gaps in choosing to stay in certain educational or career tracks. In particular, if women are quick to blame themselves for negative feedback, while men are more likely to blame bad luck, then we would expect to see more men staying on competitive tracks and more women dropping out.”

When women do well, they rarely toot their own horns and self-congratulate. Instead they “tend to attribute positive feedback more to luck.”

To be precise – Men attribute success to personal achievement and failure to bad luck. Women take failure personally and attribute success to luck – or the contributions of others.

2. The type and frequency of the feedback women receive

Women tend to receive more non-specific feedback than their male peers, because male executives can be afraid to give direct feedback. In male-coded environments, they are influenced by unconscious bias and set benchmarks for success measured against male behaviour and expectations. However, if women conform to those standards they can experience backlash. An assertive woman becomes “difficult,” or a passionate woman “emotional.”  

3. The way men give feedback

Men are frequently reluctant to give one-on-one feedback to women, especially if there is a negative component. They fear a lengthy, perhaps even emotional discussion. One manager told me that in his early days as a manager one of his reports had tears welling in her eyes and he had felt really uncomfortable. He said “The feedback was positive, with just a few tips on how her performance could be improved. I wasn’t sure what exactly was going on”

But this wider reluctance to give feedback is a real barrier to women advancing in their careers as regular feedback is seen as important to successful performance. Men dominate the senior leadership echelons so women must have constructive, frequent and actionable feedback.

Don't let corporate culture stand in your way. A Career Coach can help guide you to the career you want.

What can women do to make sure that negative feedback doesn’t throw them off course:

1. Put your stake in the ground

Make yourself available and open to feedback. Your boss should know your goals and you should be sure that he is aware that you are counting on regular input to enhance your performance.

2. Daily routine

Feedback should become part of your daily routine rather than an annual big deal performance review. Gender communication specialist, Deborah Tannen, explains that communication differences between men and women start at a very early age. Boys communicate while doing another activity using less eye contact. Women prefer one to one communication and would ask for feedback in a scheduled meeting. Her male colleague might simply say to the boss in another setting "Was the meeting OK?" and get a response - "Yes great," or " Yes - can you take a deeper look at x."

3. Breathe and take a minute

Consciously make an effort to manage your reaction if it worries you. Get into business neutral. You are getting beyond "freeze" mode.

4. Make it a dialogue

Rather than accepting a comment in silence while inwardly seething, be prepared to discuss it in greater detail. You are effectively ruling out the flight option.

5. Ask a question

Avoid making a defensive statement and perhaps going on the attack. Replace it with  “help me understand specifically what didn’t meet the expectation.”  This takes care of fight. Aggressive communication rarely has a successful outcome.

6. Get out of either/or thinking

Being in an also/and frame of mind helps you find a win/win solution. Sometimes there is middle ground and solutions or approaches are not binary.

7. Reframe the comment

Now you are in control. Put the comment into a wider context so it becomes a learning experience going forward.

8. Manage your emotions

If there is a genuine reason to cry – you have been let go or demoted then that is quite understandable. If it a routine situation explain that it is because you are invested in the project and that it’s nothing personal. Ask for a moment and resume the conversation. Using humour works. If this continues seek professional help unless you have a really understanding boss.

9. Get it done

If you have been given feedback then regardless of your opinions, make sure you implement it. Passive aggressive behaviour is not usually a winning option. It shows you have taken the point on board and have done everything you can to make things work.

Mentoring is a great way to get the guidance you need from someone with a shared experience but from outside the workplace. 3Plus has a wide range of experienced, neutral mentors available. Check them out HERE.






Staff Writer: Career Contributor
3Plus welcomes any writers to join 3Plus as a Staff Writer. If you are an expert in Job Search, Career and Mentoring or just want to share your experiences, contact us! We would love to give you a voice!

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