Turning negative feedback into opportunities

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One of the questions I most frequently encounter, especially since I founded Happyforce with my partners, is how to deal with negative feedback. There’s a general understanding that feedback is necessary for the growth and success of an organization, but then there is a barrier or challenge to undergo when people generate “noise” by sharing what they think or feel. So, how can you turn negative feedback into an opportunity?

In all my previous jobs, I’ve gone through that “what do we do now” moment numeral times, so I’d like to summarize what I think has worked best, solely based on my experience.

The first thing:

Change the mental chip to what we consider ‘negative feedback’.

It is in our nature to react strongly to criticism or simply contrary opinions, so the first step is to be very aware of our emotions, to prevent to set off our internal “alarms” so easily. Sometimes we automatically categorize these kinds of feedback as a problem, when in fact, it can be valuable information that can lead us to improve specific aspects of our organization.

If we manage to turn this idea around and start seeing the criticism or contrary comments from a different perspective, we will take an important step towards taking advantage of what employees tell us.

“We all need people to give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”

Bill Gates

Up next another tip that has helped to turn negative feedback into an opportunity:

Abandon the idea that effective communication is one in which there is no conflict involved.

Conflict is inevitable and a natural part of any relationship between people. It is therefore normal to find it in the workplace and even more so within platforms dedicated especially to collecting employee opinions, like feedback platforms or feedback tools. However, the challenge here lies in how you manage the conflict so that it becomes a source for learning and improvement. The first step to achieve this is to understand conflict as something that we will encounter many times along the way.

This leads me to the next point, which is to promote empathy.

Promote empathy

I know that this word is being spoken of a lot recently, and it is not by chance. The more we evolve and progress in improving communication within companies, the more evident the need becomes for both parties to understand each other’s position. A company that understands the context and the motivations of its employees and employees who understand why decisions are made in their organization have every advantage in building a good relationship in which balance is possible, even when dealing with uncomfortable situations. This is not magic nor is it created in two days, but with transparency, mutual respect, and the appropriate channels, it is possible. We have seen this in many companies.

Finally, I just wanted to add that you can only truly empathize with others if you lose your fear.

Although it is obvious, it is worth remembering. You can’t turn negative feedback into opportunities without growing a pair. This doesn’t mean that communication between company and employee is a battle in which the most courageous one wins. On the contrary, what I am trying to convey is that empathy, a change of vision about how we perceive conflict, and everything I have previously explained is based on something very basic: people talking to people about a scenario they experience every day. Being objective here, companies and employees have way more points in common than differences alike, so it doesn’t make sense to approach the conversation between the two from a point of fear but rather from mutual trust.

Communication

Well-articulated communication is key to building an environment in which people feel comfortable working, even when there are disagreements. In fact, at Happyforce we believe that it is precisely the good management of those disagreements that give strength and credibility to the conversation. Talk and listen to your teams even when they complain, I assure you it pays off!

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Author: Sergio Cancelo (Chief Happiness Officer)