8 Ways to Handle Negative Feedback

“Cute haircut . . .”  It sounded like a compliment until he added, “It’d look even better if you’d combed it.”

Then he said, “I’m Oprah’s stylist, so sometimes I just say whatever I want to people.”

I was momentarily stunned. And puzzled. Was it “kind of a compliment to be insulted by Oprah’s stylist?

I’d run into him while in the mall one Saturday morning while picking up a tube of mascara.

I thought he was a sales guy and was about to ask him to grab me a tube of the smoky long-lasting tube when he insulted me. In front of a bunch of people.

My first thought was, “Mister, I have five children. This ‘is’ a good hair day.” 

Negative feedback can be hurtful. It’s not easy to respond with grace, especially if you’re not expecting it. But learning how to receive negative feedback is a valuable skill as a leader.

As leaders and speakers, you’re not going to please every time, so it’s important to learn how to counter and learn from criticism. You can respond with grace.

You don’t have to feel offended when someone criticizes you. Feeling offended is a choice.

And how you respond when someone criticizes you has nothing to do with the person who insulted you and everything to do with the kind of leader you want to be.

You can handle criticism with style.

Feedback is important, especially if you want to get better. Constructive feedback is great because it gives you specific areas you can improve. Without feedback, it’s hard to grow.

Here are suggestions to help you respond to negative feedback, remain calm and learn.

8 Ways to respond instead of feeling offended:

  1. Smile and remain calm. Rule number 1when receiving negative feedback is to remain calm and smile. Before drawing swords, take a deep breath and keep an open mind. This is a great time to practice your poker face.
  2. Express appreciation. Start by expressing gratitude. Memorize a few statements so you won’t have to formulate a response in the midst of emotions. Smile and say:
  • Thank you
  • How insightful
  • I appreciate your thoughts

This keeps the situation positive and can diffuse an angry critic.

  1. Resist responding right away. The natural response when someone criticizes you is to fire back or apologize. Neither one is a great first response. You can empathize with someone without apologizing. Save your apology until after you’ve processed the information. Then if an apology is necessary, humbly offer one.
  1. Evaluate. After you’ve had time to process the comment and have sorted through your emotions, ask yourself, “Is this feedback accurate?” “Have I heard this before?” “What can I learn here?” Criticism is just someone’s opinion. Everyone has one. That doesn’t mean it’s right.
  1. Get input.  If you’re unsure of how to use the information or if it was valid, ask someone you trust and try to listen without getting defensive.
  1. Choose not to be offended. Try not to take it personally. Feeling offended is a choice. Choose not to be offended. As a leader, you can’t please everyone. Remember, 95 percent is still an “A.”
  1. Pray. Ask God to make you un-offendable and open your eyes to your blind spots.
  1. Make necessary changes. If necessary, make changes. If the criticism is valid and will make you stronger, consider incorporating the information into your presentation or leadership style. Even though negative feedback is tough, it helps you get better.

The world is full of people who will try to knock you down to make themselves feel important.

I don’t think Oprah’s stylist was trying to make himself feel important by insulting me. I mean, he’s Oprah’s stylist. It’s probably safe to say he doesn’t even remember it.

How did I remain calm and respond with grace?

I smiled. (I also smiled because I thought I might be on hidden camera. Who says that to a stranger?) My smile started out weak because I was embarrassed and surprised. Within seconds, I was beaming. I took a breath and said, “Thank you.” I chose not to feel offended. 

When you’re intentional about how you respond to negative feedback, you don’t have to take offense. And you may end up with a great story to tell.

Question:  What is something positive you’ve learned from criticism or negative feedback?


Announcement:  You can still take advantage of the Early Bird Special on the ticket cost of the virtual Speak Up Conference through April 15. The dates of the conference are July 14-16, 2021. There will be a writing track and a speaking track. Here’s the link. Sheila Qualls is on our faculty and she’ll be speaking on replacing fear and embracing faith in a session titled, “How Big is Your But?”

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  1. Bonnie Emmorey on 2021-04-13 at 3:49 PM

    I loved this! Sheila, you gave us great tools to use as we respond to questionable feedback. It also makes me want to guard my own tongue, and not be the one who could give offense. That’s a win/win in my book!

  2. Ann Aschauer on 2021-04-09 at 1:13 PM

    The day I received a publisher’s rejection of one of my books – my first rejection in years – I realized I had been growing spiritually, and ended up rejoicing!


  3. Shannon M Popkin on 2021-04-07 at 8:12 AM

    Sheila, I loved this! You made me laugh out loud with a hidden cameracomment. And I’ll bet I would’ve thought your hair looked great (sure does in the photo!).

    God bless your ministry!

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