Sad woman covering her face

The 6 Step Framework for Handling Bad Feedback

Bad feedback has a tendency to sucker punch us right where it hurts, spiraling us down into the depths of negative-self talk and my personal nemesis — doubt. This can make us either get emotional and reactionary, or shut down and ignore the problem.

And that’s not good for anyone.

Here’s a framework you can follow to pull you out of your existential crisis and get you back to being productive.

The Situation

Let’s say that you just got done with a project and you asked your client for feedback. They said that overall you did great work, helped them answer the questions they had, and offered great solutions. But they’re not sure if they want to work with you again because you took too long to respond to emails when they had questions.

Usually, we get upset about critical feedback because a part of us knows it’s true, but we feel powerless to make it better. So instead, we get sensitive and defensive, blaming the other person for pointing out something about ourselves that we don’t like.

These are the 6 questions I ask myself whenever I’m working through a tough situation. And yes, I go through this out loud sometimes. Whatever works, right?

Why am I upset?

Think through what you’re feeling and what emotions you’re having. Each time you identify an emotion, ask yourself what underlying issue is causing that emotion. It’s easy to say, “I’m pissed off because my client is never satisfied.” But that’s not the real issue. You’ve got to go one step further and explain what you’re part is in this situation.

I’m feeling _______ because ________.

I’m feeling angry because I know I should’ve responded sooner but I wanted to wait until I had something to show him.

What can I do that will make me less upset?

Make a list of productive things you can do that will make you feel better. Only list things that you can control, and make sure they’re active things, like reaching out to someone, or setting up calendar reminders.

I can do ________ which will make me feel better because _______.

I can apologize and thank him for his feedback. I can set up reminders in Gmail so that I send a status update every day. That will make me feel better because then I don’t have to try and remember to follow up.

What caused this situation?

Run through a timeline in your head of what happened. Start from the beginning of the project or situation, and just run through the order of events.

First I did ______ then _______ happened. Then I did ______ and _______ happened.

When we first started, I was emailing every day with updates. Then I got swamped and didn’t go through email for two days. He’d asked a question and I didn’t see it. I didn’t check email over the weekend, so there was a 5 day wait between the question and my response.

What went well?

Make a list of all the good things that you did. Think about what you learned, and what you did that was positive.

I learned _______, ________, and _______. I did _______, and _______ really well.

I improved my coding skills, and got to do some business strategizing. I also created a really cool logo that they loved.

What could have gone better?

Make a list of all the things you could have done better. Now, this has to be an objective look at what could have gone better. Be honest, but don’t beat yourself up.

I didn’t do _______ very well because _______.

I didn’t communicate very well because I was feeling overwhelmed.

What can I do to make sure it goes better next time?

List all of the action steps you can take in the future to make sure that things go more smoothly. Make sure to include how you think this will help you do better.

Next time, I’ll do _______. This is going to help me be better at _______ because _______.

Next time, I’ll have reminders and check in during the project to make sure everything is going well. This is going to help me be better at client management because I’ll know if my client needs anything and make sure they’re happy.

So next time you’re dealing with feedback that riles you up, you’ll be able to use this to turn all those gross feelings into something useful.