When was the last time you received negative feedback? For many leaders and executives, the sound of criticism on the breeze has become a rare experience indeed.

Their colleagues may doubt the wisdom in questioning the boss's behavior. Or junior employees may simply not have the confidence to speak up about a flaw in the company workflow or a business decision that they foresee backfiring.

As you can imagine, this is pretty bad news for the boss. Indeed, a lack of negative criticism is often the best evidence that things aren't going well. In any case, it is hard to build and improve your performance or your business if nobody ever lets you know how you're doing.

Strategies for giving and receiving feedback

That's why it is healthy to nurture a culture of feedback at the workplace. Leaders with emotional intelligence make room for questions and doubts at meetings -- directly asking each participant to identify a problem with the decisions that have been made. They also think about providing channels for anonymous feedback.

However, establishing feedback processes in the workplace isn't just an outward effort. If you're about to start receiving all sorts of criticism for the first time in a while, you need to prepare personally as well. For a person with emotional intelligence, receiving negative feedback is as much as a skill as giving it.

An infographic on a CashNetUSA blog gives key pointers on the proper ways to handle negative feedback (without taking it personally).

First, look carefully at the language you use when receiving feedback face-to-face. To start with, that could mean no language at all. In other words, actively listen and respond only for clarification or ask for examples (and be wary of getting defensive way; use it only to better understand the criticism -- you will decide if you agree with it later).

The first thing you should say is thank you to your critic for speaking up. This frames the feedback as a gift. It puts both you and the other guy in a constructive frame of mind. And it is particularly helpful when you are the boss, since it shows the brave critic that they are not going to suffer for having dared to speak up to you.

But don't overdo it. Don't apologize immediately. Nothing says "our culture of feedback is designed to make me feel like a nice boss" better than issuing a meaningless apology before you've digested the feedback.

Instead, arrange a follow-up meeting (if necessary) to report back to your colleague on what you will do to rectify the issue for which you have been reprimanded. How do you do that?

Ask yourself three questions:

1. What can I learn from the feedback?

It may sound obvious, but assuming our minds will simply digest feedback and deliver improvements on an ambient basis will lead only to repeat mistakes. Write (for yourself) a list or short paragraphs about what you learned.

2. How did the feedback make me feel, and why?

We bury our greatest fears and inner-thoughts so deep that hearing the truth spoken to us can be very emotionally disturbing. If feedback hurts, that normally means it's true. This may be your greatest area for potential improvement. Don't shy from the hurt.

3. What's the next step?

As with the first question, this is a case of making things concrete. Write a list of tasks of what you actually need to do to fix the situation and prevent it recurring.

Putting it all together with a high degree of emotional intelligence, the business will get better, your personal performance will improve, and your relationship with your colleagues will become ever-more fruitful. 

Published on: Oct 8, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.