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Moving Beyond Discouragement to Process Negative Feedback

How many times have you been told something was too complicated, too unconventional, or too difficult to accomplish?

I bet you’ve heard one of those excuses at least a few times. We all have to be told “no” occasionally. And sometimes we have to be the person who’s saying “no.”

Discouragement can be hard to swallow, and it’s reflexive to want to fight for your ideas. But there is a time and place for going to the mattresses (full disclosure: I learned this quote from You’ve Got Mail, not The Godfather) and sometimes taking a moment to be introspective can be more helpful in the long run when it comes to accomplishing your goal and alleviating frustration.

When you’re the one delivering the bad news, be helpful, not hurtful. This is one of my professional pet peeves, and it’s so common sometimes I can’t believe we ever get anything accomplished. It’s easy to list all the reasons a new idea might not work. Maybe there’s not enough time. Not enough manpower. Not enough resources. When you have to tell someone their innovation is too ambitious, try not to turn off their light bulb. Instead, offer a new power outlet. First, ask yourself if it’s a truly bad idea. If you agree it’s a good idea but you can’t see past the barriers, take a moment to empower your colleague or employee to find a solution. So there’s not enough time, what part of the idea can be modified to make it work within the constraints? If manpower is the biggest hurdle, can a part of their concept be sacrificed to make the final product attainable given the available number of staff for the project? Solving the problem may not explicitly be your responsibility, but being a supportive member of any team means doing more than just identifying the challenges.

Balance your optimism and realism. Pitching a new idea can be tricky. If it’s something you really believe in, it’s easy to act as your own personal hype man. A positive attitude can go a long way to convince others your idea can work, but remember to balance your optimism with your realism. No matter what idea you’re suggesting, you’re opening yourself up to feedback and criticism, and it may not always be constructive. If you’re met with discouragement, don’t close yourself off. Ask questions. Find out what the real pain points are so you can think of ways to overcome them. Listen to what others are saying. You won’t always be able to please everyone, but if your idea matters and if your idea helps the organization meet its mission, don’t give up.

“It’s not personal.” Can we all agree to stop saying this? Just because it’s not personal to you, doesn’t mean it’s not personal to your colleague. You may not have meant what you said to be offensive, but you can’t control the way someone might react to or feel about your feedback. On the other side of the coin, try to remember it’s not always about you. If your impulse is to get defensive and take something personally, you’re allowed to feel hurt, but try to focus on the intent of the message rather than the way it was delivered and remain respectful. Giving feedback is just as difficult as receiving feedback. It’s especially important to understand you can’t control how anyone else behaves, you can only control your own behavior. Is it more productive to get angry and pout or argue, or is it more productive to shrug it off, focus on the task at hand and move on?

Still feeling discouraged? Here are some more tips to overcome it.

Anna Taylor is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Gabrielle Wonnell

Be helpful not hurtful is such a good reminder. This is one of those things that nobody on either side really wants to participate in. However, when we breathe through it we can create positive change. Thanks Anna!

Amy DeWolf

Great post. It’s always important when giving feedback or listening to someones idea (or on a total fli side, complaining about a problem) to be solution oriented. Ideas and positive energy are always a good thing and even if it can’t be done should always be encouraged.

Avatar photo Blake Martin

This is so insightful, and I wish that folks will follow your lead and choose to make positive out of negative feedback. I was especially struck by the “it’s not personal” section; as you state we can only control our words but can never truly have a grasp on the feelings our feedback can elicit in others. Great post, Anna- thank you for sharing!