After a project is complete, I always ask my team for feedback about how we can improve for the future. While the feedback is often positive, it's inevitable that negative feedback arises from time to time. And when I'm receiving feedback about my company, it can be hard to not take the feedback personally. Having been working hard on my business for two years, negative feedback can almost feel like someone just called my baby "ugly".

Over the years, I've learned that all types of feedback can be crucial to self-improvement and better business processes even if the commentary stings at the start. Here's how I've learned to handle the not-so-fun topics of conversation in startup life. 

1. Respond, don't react

It can be easy to become defensive in the throes of a negative conversation. When I've been given negative feedback in the past, I would sometimes snap into defensive mode, discounting what the person was saying, instead of listening to their view.

Today, I always try to listen to what the person is saying, look at their complete view, and ask questions to learn more about how they came to their opinion. Not always reacting can be hard, but keeping in mind that the other person has a different view can be a great starting point.

"Responding well, versus reacting, to negative workplace feedback requires self-awareness and self-control to leverage the conversation for a workplace win," explained Sarah Kaler and Brenda Wilkins, founders of SoulPowered, a leadership development that works with dozens of executives each months."To be truly effective we must hit pause on our instinctive reactions to defend or deflate. Instead we must respond with open listening and questioning for mutual understanding. Regardless of role or position, these situations present opportunities to demonstrate your leadership and communication skills; changing the trajectory of a conversation and even your career."

2. Understand where the feedback is coming from

Everyone has a different perspective on the world going on around them. By taking a step back to understand their views and comments, you might gain a better understanding of their opinion.

"Responding, versus reacting, means shifting from your first emotional reaction to a higher level focus on how to create the best outcome from a conversation, or event; for yourself, your relationship with the other person, or even your company," continued Kaler and Wilkins.​

"It doesn't mean you don't feel the feelings or they are unimportant, it means focusing less on personalizing the feedback (react), and instead shifting the focus to communicating for a positive outcome (respond)."

Here's how you do that:

  • Listen, don't defend.

  • Next, ask for specific examples of feedback, but seek to understand. Listen don't defend.

  • Ask what the person giving you the feedback would consider more effective behavior from you or others involved. Listen don't defend.

  • Say thank you and acknowledge their perspective (this doesn't mean you agree, instead it means you are listening). Give your appreciation for sharing with you.

  • Now, either (1) respond verbally with a mindset/attitude to collaborate, be solution-based, and work towards positive outcomes, or (2) let the other person know you are going to think about the conversation and will follow up with them by a specific date (at which time go back to option 1 above).

3. Choose your work battles wisely 

When you're leading a team you'll be given lots of feedback, both positive and negative. While some feedback warrants a discussion on whether it's correct or not, I've learned that a majority of workforce battles aren't worth the time or the energy to push back on. Some criticism might seem like a personal attack in the short term, but in the long term, two negative commentary will no longer feel like a big deal. Simply accepting feedback and waking up the next day for a fresh start can help you keep your professional relationships strong.

Whether you're experiencing positive or negative feedback, take a deep breath, pause for a moment to think, and have a conversation in which both parties' feelings are accounted for.