How to Professionally Respond to Negative Feedback at Work

Explore our guide on how to respond to negative feedback at work, & learn how to turn criticism into growth opportunities

February 21, 2024
Press the button to generate random icebreaker questions.
There are 300 more icebreaker questions at the bottom of the article
How would you describe your job to a five year old?
What season would you be?
What is a weird food you have tried? Would you eat it again?
What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Would you go in the mother-ship with aliens if they landed on Earth tomorrow?
What is your favorite season?
Do prefer working from home or the office?
What is your earliest memory of this job?
What is the best thing you have bought so far this year?
What is the earliest book you remember?
If you had to move to another country, which one would you choose?
You are the best criminal mastermind in the world. What crime would you commit if you knew you would get away with it?
What is your favorite movie genre to watch?
What was the last thing you ate?
What person from history would you add to Mount Rushmore?
What is a weird fact you know?
What is your favorite part of working from home?
Were the Spice Girls a good team?
Imagine you can instantly learn any language. Which would you choose?
If you could live in any state, which state would you pick?
Which fictional team is the best team of all time?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
What do you usually eat for a quick lunch?
What simple food will you never eat?
Show us the weirdest thing you have in the room with you right now.
Would you rather stay at a hotel or an AirBNB?
What is your favorite movie genre to watch?
Are you more productive in the morning or at night?
Who is someone in your community that makes a difference?
Who was your most unique pet?
Choose one famous person from history you want on your team during a zombie apocalypse.
What is a good way to give back to the community?
Which song could you listen to over and over again?
Is Hugh Grant funny?
What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?
Would you want to have an imaginary friend today? Did you have one as a child?
What actor or actress would you want to play you in the movie about your life?
What is the best super power?
What is your New Years resolution?
You can only eat one food again for the rest of your life. What is it?
What is the best work holiday?
What is the first gift you remember receiving?
Would you rather join Metallica or Backstreet Boys?
What is the best example of a community you have seen?
What is an easy way to do something nice for someone?
Show us your phone background and tell the story behind why you picked this image.
What was your first job?
Pick any band to play at your funeral.
If you could have an unlimited supply of one thing for the rest of your life, what would you pick?
Which superpower would you give to your arch enemy?
What is the most obscure superpower you would want?
What emoji best describes how you are feeling right now?
If you could live in any country, which country would you pick?
Would you rather live in a city or a town?
What is your favorite holiday?
What is something you accomplished as part of a team?
What is your standard office lunch?
What is your most used phone app?
What is your favorite season?
Have you ever won something as a team?
Imagine you are a professional baseball player. What is your introduction song?
Beach holiday or ski trip?
Have you ever been to a funny comedy show?
Would you rather live at the North Pole or the South Pole?
What is your favorite song to sing?
If you could live in any state, which state would you pick?
Imagine you could teleport anywhere. Where would you go right now?
What is the most unusual job you have heard of?
What was the last thing you ate?
You can visit any fictional time or place. Which would you pick?
What do your family and friends think you do all day?
What movie do you wish you could watch again for the first time?
Show us your most-used emoji.
What was the most unique style or fashion trend you ever embraced?
What movie defined your generation?
You are stranded on a remote desert island. Are you alone or with your worst enemy?
What is your favorite knock-knock joke?
Have you ever told someone Santa is not real?
Do you know how to speak more than one language?
On a scale of 1 – 10, how much of a team player are you?
What is your #1 recommendation in this city?
What is your favorite holiday?
What bucket list item do you most want to check off in the next six months?
What is your favorite mythical creature?
What was the first way you made money?
If you could be great at any Olympic sport, which would it be?
Which song could you listen to over and over again?
When did you start liking/hating mushrooms?
Where is your favorite vacation spot?
Do you take your PTO all at one time, or another way?
Which show do you remember most from your childhood?
Which beverage goes best with pizza?
Would you want to have a personal assistant follow you around everywhere and do what you asked of them?
Have you ever met your idol?
What did you want to be when you grew up?
Would you rather live 100 years in the past or 100 years in the future?
What is your hobby?
When you are alone in the car, what volume is the music at?
Imagine you no longer have to work. How would you spend a Tuesday?
What is your favorite type of sandwich?

No one relishes being on the receiving end of criticism. It can stir up feelings of anxiety, hurt, or defensiveness. Naturally, we all seek primarily positive feedback. However, as daunting as it may be, negative feedback is an integral part of personal and professional growth. Sometimes even more so than positive feedback can be. When handled correctly, negative feedback presents an opportunity to learn, develop, and forge stronger relationships in the workplace. 

This comprehensive guide provides insights on how to respond to negative feedback and turn potentially uncomfortable situations into constructive dialogues, with formal feedback examples too. Let's turn the negative feedback into positive feedback specifically for you. Read to learn more.

The Integral Role of Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

To better understand how to respond to criticism, we must first comprehend the significance of critical feedback in a professional context.

Feedback, positive or negative, is vital for fostering personal growth and driving organizational success. According to Gallup's data, there's a profound correlation between receiving "meaningful feedback" from your manager and employee engagement. Specifically, employees who affirm that they've received substantial additional feedback in the past week are nearly four times more likely to exhibit higher levels of engagement compared to those who didn't have the same experience.

Feedback helps managers and employees know what they're doing right and what to improve on. Often employees who received negative feedback and, with proper perspective, were able to make it actionable are the ones who succeed.

Why It’s Important to Respond to Feedback Professionally

Feedback should be seen as a tool for learning and improvement, rather than a personal attack. 

By responding professionally and constructively to negative feedback, we create an environment that encourages open communication and continuous improvement.

Professional responses to feedback show emotional intelligence and maturity — They can enhance your reputation, strengthen your relationships, and accelerate your career advancement. According to a report by LinkedIn Learning, communication is one of the top 10 skills companies look out for in new hires.  

In fact, the rise of hybrid work environments has further amplified the critical importance of human skills like communication, management, teamwork, and leadership.

How Do You Respond to Negative Feedback Professionally?

Whether negative feedback is delivered in person or via email, maintaining professionalism is vital. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do so, complete with illustrative examples.

Step 1: Keep your composure

Negative feedback isn’t an accusation. At least it’s not meant to be. So, resist the urge to react defensively or emotionally. Instead, listen attentively without interruption.

Example: If your supervisor identifies a typo in a report you’ve written, rather than rebutting immediately, take a moment to compose yourself and respond, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I understand the importance of accuracy in our reports.”

This way, your supervisor will know you can accept corrections, even for something as small as a typo.

Step 2: Clarify the feedback

If the feedback is ambiguous or unclear, politely ask for specific examples or further explanation to understand it better. 

Example: “I appreciate your feedback. Could you please provide an instance where I went wrong or explain further?”

It’ll be weird if you say you understand and make the same mistake again. 

Step 3: Accept and take accountability

If the feedback is valid, acknowledge it and accept responsibility for your actions. This illustrates your willingness to learn and improve.

Example: “I acknowledge that there was a mistake in my report. I accept responsibility for it and will ensure it does not recur.”

Step 4: Offer a solution or seek advice

Proffer a solution to address the issue or ask for suggestions to improve. This reinforces your commitment to rectifying the situation and growing. People will be more willing to help you or provide resources if you show some initiative.

Example: “I will revise the report to correct these errors. I also plan to create a checklist for future reports to ensure accuracy. Are there any other tips you can give me on this issue?”

Step 5: Express your gratitude

When you've addressed the problem and proposed a remedy, don't forget to thank the individual who supplied the input. This simple gesture of thanks shows your appreciation for their opinion and your readiness to use it as an opportunity for growth.

Example: “Thank you for pointing out these errors. Your feedback helps me improve my work performance and avoid such mistakes in the future.”

Step 6: Reflect and learn

Take some time after the conversation to reflect on the feedback and your response to it. Use it as a learning experience to identify areas of improvement and develop strategies to enhance your performance.

Step 7: Follow up

It’s essential to follow up after the conversation to demonstrate your commitment to improvement. It could be as simple as sending an email to confirm the steps you’ve taken to address the feedback or a message to show your revised work.

Example: “I have revised the report and implemented a checklist for future tasks. I hope this will prevent any similar issues from happening again.”

Step 8: Adopt the feedback

Be sure to make the necessary changes to your work or behavior based on the feedback you’ve received. Remember, feedback helps you improve, and implementing these changes is a crucial step toward your improvement.

For instance, if the feedback was about a mistake in a report, be extra cautious in your future reports. Always double-check your work before submitting it.

By taking these steps, you show you take your job seriously and are committed to doing better. This also shows your ability to handle negative feedback positively. Remember, how you react to feedback can affect how you get along with others at work and how far you go in your career.

How Do I Accept Unfair Negative Feedback?

Occasionally, you might find yourself on the receiving end of feedback that seems unjustified or excessive. It can feel like a storm you didn't see coming. However, even in these challenging situations, there are strategies to help you steer the conversation toward a more constructive outcome. 

Here’s how to respond to negative feedback — with examples:

Step 1: Stay calm and reflect

Always resist the urge to react immediately. Whatever you say at that moment may be nasty and defensive. Instead, take some time to process the feedback and consider whether it might contain some truth.

Step 2: Analyze the feedback

Examine the feedback objectively. Is there any merit to the criticism? Are there any aspects you could learn from? If there is some truth, you may have to acknowledge and work on it.

Step 3: Seek a second opinion

If after self-reflection, you still believe the feedback is unfair, consider seeking a second opinion from a trusted colleague or mentor. They might provide a different perspective or help you identify something you missed.

Example: You can show them the email and say, “ What are your thoughts on this? Are these areas I need to improve on?”

Step 4: Respond professionally

If you still believe the feedback is unjust, express your perspective professionally and without becoming defensive.

Example: “I appreciate your feedback, but I believe there may be some misunderstandings. Here’s my perspective…”

How Do I Accept Negative Feedback from My Boss?

Receiving feedback is one thing, receiving it from your boss is another. Negative feedback from a superior can be particularly challenging due to the power dynamic. However, it’s essential to handle the situation with grace and professionalism. 

Here’s how:

Step 1: Listen without interruption

Even if the feedback feels harsh or undeserved, allow your boss to finish their thoughts without interruption. This shows respect and willingness to understand their perspective.

Don’t rush to defend yourself or show your point of view. Keep an open mind and absorb their feedback.

Step 2: Consider the feedback

Before responding, take some time to reflect on what they said. This brief pause ensures that your response is thoughtful and measured. It's about taking the time to understand the feedback and how it aligns with your perception of your performance.

Step 3: Respond constructively

Acknowledge the feedback, express your understanding of the issue, and provide your perspective if necessary. Remember, it’s not about defending yourself, but about addressing the problem and improving on it.

Example: "I understand your concerns about my performance this past week. There are some external factors that I believe have contributed to the situation, and I would appreciate the opportunity to discuss them with you. However, I take full responsibility and will work on improving."

Step 4: Develop an action plan

Demonstrate your commitment to improvement by proposing a plan to address the feedback. The action plan should be concrete and actionable, outlining specific steps you will take to rectify the situation and prevent it from happening again in the future.

Example: “Moving forward, I will implement better time management techniques to ensure that all my tasks are completed efficiently and on time.”

Dealing with Feedback via Email

Handling feedback via email can be challenging due to the lack of verbal cues and real-time clarification. And no, you cannot use emojis — well, unless you’re permitted to. 

Either way, here’s a guide on how to respond professionally to negative feedback received through email:

1. Mull it over

The best part of email correspondence is that you don’t have to reply right away. So, avoid rushing your response. Give yourself ample time to understand the feedback and construct a thoughtful response.

A knee-jerk reaction might feel like the right thing to do. However, by avoiding an immediate response, you allow yourself the necessary time to fully comprehend the feedback, understand its implications, and craft a thoughtful and considered response. 

Remember, your first reaction may not be your best reaction.

2. Recognize their feedback

Start your response by expressing appreciation for the feedback. This not only acknowledges the time and effort taken by the person providing the feedback, but it also sets a positive tone for your response. It shows that you are receptive to constructive criticism, which is an important driver of professional development.

Example: “Thank you for taking the time to share your feedback…”

3. Address the feedback

Respond to each point raised, providing your perspective and seeking clarification if needed. Doing so shows that you've taken the time to consider all aspects of the feedback, and it also allows for a clearer understanding of the issues at hand. 

Example: “You mentioned my presentation lacked detail. Could you specify the areas you’re referring to? This will help me improve.”

4. Propose a solution

Suggest a solution to rectify the problem or ask for suggestions on how to improve. This demonstrates your dedication to solving the problem as well as your openness to learn and improve. It also starts a conversation on how to make your work better in the future.

Example: “Moving forward, I will try to provide more detail in my presentations. Do you have any specific areas you suggest I focus on?”

5. Maintain a professional tone

Remember, throughout your response, your tone should remain professional. Email doesn't convey tone, emotions, or facial expressions; so it's important to choose your words carefully to avoid any misinterpretation. Avoid defensive or confrontational language, even if the feedback feels unfair or unfounded.

Handling feedback via email can be a tricky exercise, but by following the steps outlined above, you can ensure your response is professional, respectful, and constructive.

Harnessing the Power of Feedback With Assembly

Negative feedback is an inevitable part of professional growth. How we respond to it can determine whether it is an obstacle or an opportunity to build stronger professional relationships. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can approach feedback with a professional mindset.

Additionally, there are tools available to make the process of giving and receiving feedback smoother and more effective. One such tool is Assembly.

Assembly is a user-friendly platform designed to help your teams work better together. With features like real-time feedback and performance reviews, Assembly encourages clear communication, while its recognition tools help to highlight achievements - turning what could have been a conversation filled with dread into a constructive, growth-oriented exchange. 

Browse our Free Employee Recognition Guide

Get the foundational knowledge on creating an employee recognition program that boosts employee engagement and helps them feel valued.

Explore Guide
Employee recognition guide

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Assembly SOC 2 compliant?

Yes, at Assembly, security is a top priority. Each quarter, we have ongoing security work that is everyone’s responsibility. While we maintain a strong security posture, it was important for us to prove to our customers that we do everything we claim to do. This led us to pursue a SOC 2 Type II report that would provide evidence of our compliance with industry gold-standard security practice.

What's the ROI for employee recognition?

There is study after study showing that employee recognition leads to increased engagement. This in return creates an environment where employees are happier and more motivated which increase productivity and reduces voluntary turnover significantly. In order to filled critical roles, companies tend to spend nearly twice the value of an annual salary. Assembly is an investment in your employees that supports your bottom line.

Does Assembly offer longer-term contracts?

Yes, we will offer contracts for companies with longer-term agreements to help larger customers have more certainty around future costs.

The minimum agreement term is a 12-month subscription.

Does Assembly offer onboarding support?

We do and for FREE! Any new customer needing further support to get started with Assembly to ensure you're set up for success can request custom onboarding support. Improving your employee experience is about much more than just using our amazing software; it’s about transforming your business to create a workplace that people love. That’s much easier to do with the personal support and advice from our passionate people experts.

Is there a free version of Assembly?

Yes. We offer a completely free plan for up to 50 team members. This plan is intended for teams or organizations that are looking to get started with an employee engagement tool. Keep in mind, this plan is limited in features.

All customers can open an Assembly account for free and get started without a credit card. Then you can change plans as necessary.

How much do rewards cost?

At the time of redemption (when your employees exchange their points for a paid reward) you'll pay face value. If a reward is a $10 Amazon gift card, your cost will be $10. All paid rewards are billed for on a monthly basis.

The good news is that you don't have to pay for rewards upfront because we only charge you when points are redeemed, not when they're earned.

Does Assembly offer discounts?

We offer discounts or educational or charitable organizations. In order to secure a discount, you'll first need to book a demo with a customer support specialist.

For all other organizations, we are willing to consider longer-term agreements in exchange for discounts. To set up annual plans or longer, you will need to book a demo with a customer support specialist.

How do I cancel my plan if needed?

If you're on a month to month plan, you can go here and cancel anytime. If you're having concerns or need help setting up your account for success, you can always book a demo with a customer support specialist.

If you're on a longer-term custom plan, you'll need to reach out to your customer support specialist to cancel your account or email us at support@joinassembly.com.

What customizations are available?

Great question! You can customize your core values to match your organization's to boost and track alignment. You can change your currency from the 🏆 emoji (our default) to any emoji of your choice. You can swap our logo for your own. You can also set up company culture rewards such as, "Lunch with the CEO," "Buy a book on us," and so much more!

Who can give or receive recognition?

While we recommend a peer to peer set up where anyone in your organization can give or receive recognition, you can set up Assembly however you want. If you need to limit the people who can give or receive recognition, that's perfectly fine and can be done from your Admin, here.

What integrations are available?

Assembly connects to the tools your employees use every day to offer an easy, seamless experience with minimal change management.  

Assembly has integrations with HCM/HRIS systems like ADP, Google, Office 365, and Slack. We also integrate with communication tools like Slack and Teams so you and your employees can access Assembly wherever they work now.

What's your average adoption rate?

That depends on the company's permissions set up. That said, over 90% of the employees on Assembly's platform are recognized on a monthly basis. That means nearly every employee across all of our customers are receiving regular recognition from their peers, managers, or leadership. We're extremely proud of this.

Must rewards be set up to use Assembly?

They are not required. You can use Assembly without having rewards set up. However, we don't recommend it if you intend to have a high adoption and usage rate. You can always keep the costs down by offering internal culture rewards that are fulfilled by you internally.

Are points required to use Assembly?

No, you can remove allowances from anyone or everyone. It's up to you but we do recommend using points whether they're worth a real dollar value or not. Companies that use points have a much higher engagement rate even if those points don't exchange for real dollars.

Could find the answer you are looking for?

Please schedule time with an expert and we will help you to get all your questions answered