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A Simple Filter to Help You Deal With Negative Feedback

a simple filter for dealing with negative feedback

If you’re like me, you wince every time you get negative feedback. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, but there’s something inside me and probably inside you that makes your heart sink at least a little every time you receive a negative reaction to something you’ve said, done or put in place.

Last week I had a discussion in which a key leader I admire and respect gave me some great feedback that I could have easily dismissed as negative. My stomach churned for a while as I read it and then discussed it with him.

Years ago I might have dismissed it or considered it disloyal. But I didn’t. I valued it and thanked him for it. It will be part of a much larger dialogue between him and I, and once I got over the slight brooding, I realized what a gift his insight was.

At the same time I also got a note from someone who gave me ‘advice’ about how to handle something. I thanked him for his perspective but moved on in seconds. No follow up conversation on my part. Why?

The difference is a filter. When I get negative feedback, I ask myself:

Is this negative feedback from a positive person, or is this negative feedback from a negative person?

There’s a world of difference between the two. You need negative feedback from positive people. Negative feedback from a negative person is much less helpful and useful. You need to find the lesson and move on.

Here’s why:

Negative feedback from a positive person is almost always valuable. When it comes from a person who is aligned with your organization’s mission, vision and strategy — from someone who’s invested in the future you share — you need it. As much as you might still wince (even just a little), you require this kind of feedback.

If there’s truth in it, you need it because it will make you a better leader, help you shape a better vision or strategy, identify a pitfall you might have missed or help you correct a character flaw you might be blind to.

If for some reason, there’s been a misunderstanding, you can use the moment to clarify the issue, find your shared common ground, and move on.

Negative feedback from a negative person is less valuable. You need to have the humility to learn from a situation whatever the source. But you also have to realize that criticism that comes from a negative person is almost always a slippery slope into wasted time, energy and emotion if you pursue it deeply with him or her.

If you solve the issue at hand, because you’re dealing with a negative person, you are moments away from receiving your next bit of criticism. And even should you address that, you are just a stone’s throw away from the next…well, you see the pattern.

You can’t build the future on negative people. Learn what you can. Pray about it. Move on.

Progress almost always results when you learn to deal with negative feedback from a positive person. Nothing much good ever happens when you over-engage a negative person.

So, as you sift through your inbox, check your texts and have conversations this week, ask yourself.  Is this negative feedback from a positive person? If so, steel up a little and dive in. Learn and grow. If it’s negative feedback from a negative person, thank them, pray about it, and move on.

You’ll save yourself a ton of time and energy.

You’re probably asking, well, what else do I do with negative people? I’m going to address that in the next two posts (7 Signs You’re Dealing with a Negative Person and 5 Ways to Minimize the Impact of Negative Person)

But start here. Just use this filter and see if it helps.

What are you learning about negative feedback from positive people and negative feedback from negative people?


  1. annepeterson on November 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Carey, loved this post. I got directed here by Mary DeMuth’s email.

    What I’ve learned is that negative feedback from positive people means something didn’t resonate that they thought might help. If their bent is to be positive then they are stepping out of their comfort zone and it might be worth my attention.

    On the other hand, negative feedback from negative people is all they are capable of. I said capable instead of “willing,” to give them the benefit of a doubt. Some people can only give negative because it’s all they know. Some people have never heard positive so they are giving what they have received. Either way negative feedback from negative people really does weigh in less.

    Thanks so much for this post.

    • Carey on November 12, 2012 at 8:38 am

      Anne…thanks for your comments. (and Mary is awesome!). You’re so right…negative people have often only known negative. I always hope they have the motivation to break that pattern!

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