Feedback is a fantastic method to aid your growth.

But remember – not all feedback is equal.

Learn to filter what is helpful criticism, and what is feedback disguised as being “constructive.”

In this post we will be looking at:

  • some examples of negative feedback I’ve received,
  • why I decided I didn’t find this was constructive,
  • what questions to ask, and behaviour to observe to decide if feedback is false
  • what to do when you receive useless feedback.

Let’s start looking at some negative criticism I received in the workplace.

An example of negative feedback that wasn’t constructive…

On the last day of a job, I was putting the final finish to my handover, before I would leaving for good.

The clock had just gone past 4pm when I got the call.

It was the director of the team.

Nothing too bad too bad to worry about” I thought.

I’d had lots of these types of calls on my last day from senior team members who I never worked particularly close to, sending me their best, and wishing me well for the future.

“Let me give you some feedback that will help your performance in the workplace James…”

That was a bold opening 30 seconds into the call.

Oh, oh I thought as my heart sank at the stern tone of voice. I gave a meek “okay…” and she continued

“I’ve heard you’ve been slagging off the team James…”

Wait… what… my mouth tightened, and my mind whizzed through dozens of scenarios trying to think where and when I did such a thing.

“Now James,  I can’t reveal who told me, but they’re a junior member of staff, James, whose only just started…”

Although they weren’t telling me the name of the source, they pretty much told me who made the claim by giving a specific description of one of my colleagues.

“As you get more senior, you need to be careful what you say James…”

My mind wandered from the call, as I thought of all the meetings I’d had with that person, and scratched my head to think what conversation they’d interpreted as me bad mouthing the team.

After the director hung up, I felt sick, confused, angry, and in no way better off from their comments.

Over the next few months I started looking for answers of what to do with this feedback.

Instead I ended up realising that not all criticism is valid, nor constructive.

I learnt something else instead – not all feedback is genuine and comes from the place good intent.

Perfect Manifesto: What To Do With Feedback (When You Think It’s Wrong!) by James M. Lane

What do to do when you receive feedback that doesn’t seem genuine?

When you receive feedback that doesn’t come seem accurate, it’s worth asking yourself, is the person giving the feedback:

  • From a reliable position of truth and experience?
  • Framing it in a way that doesn’t seem manipulative?
  • Have ultior motivates that they are making a deliberate attempt to hurt or damage you?

The ultimate answer is, just because you’ve been given feedback, doesn’t mean you have to accept it.

But how can you decide if it’s useful, or if it’s just you struggling to take criticism?

Here are questions you should ask:

Does the feedback have any truth to it?

When you get feedback, is the person backing up what they’re saying with fact?

If they’re telling you that you have poor performance in the workplace can they provide any evidence?

  • Emails you’ve sent?
  • Complaints from customers?
  • Testimonies from a diverse range of colleagues (without agendas) saying the same thing?
  • Examples of shoddy work?
  • Details of time, place, people, events?

If they’re making the claims, it’s difficult to make improvements without proof.

What position was the person in?

Next look at where the person is giving their feedback from.

Does the constructive criticism stem from their direct point of view of what they’ve seen, and observed?

Or is it based on hearsay – of second, third hand accounts of what someone has told them?

Information heard off others is always a suspect source of constructive feedback because you’re only getting:

  • One side of the story.
  • Part of the story.
  • Misinterpreted or filtered down versions of events.
  • Chinese whispers – misunderstandings (even the negative feedback example in this post is based off my own interpretation/memory).

If you feel the person does not have the full picture, seek feedback from a more reliable source.

For example, when I worked in a job in child protection, my manager would tell me that colleagues were complaining about my disorganised filing structure.

Eager to address this problem, I would speak to the team members impacted to see what I could do. It was there I got the response

“No, I don’t have any problems at all, the way your files are organised are fine.”

It was there I realised something deeper was at play…

Do they have an ulterior motivates?

The call with the director, got me off to a terrible start in my next job, as I joined with damaged confidence and questioning my abiltiies. Perhaps I wasn’t ready yet for a leadership role?

The question bugged me for month’s – it didn’t seem accurate that I would talk behind anyone’s back.

Anything I do say to an individual about a team’s culture is something I wouldn’t be afraid to raise in a team meeting.

After discussions with various colleagues I’d worked with in the past, I accepted their conclusion about my character

“Slagging people off? That’s doesn’t sound like you!”

Making this peace, I then started coming up with other theories why I would be given useless constructive criticism, and I settled on the answer:

They were bitter that I was leaving, and through their own insecurities they decided in my last hour of work, that they would make an attack on me, with the intent of causing hurt.

The lesson – when you receive negative feedback, question the motivates of the individual. Are they:

  • A competitor, attempting to damage your chances?
  • Jealous?
  • Insecure?
  • Lashing out from their own hurt?
  • (For whatever reason) have a dislike of you that impacts giving you fair judgement.

There are many reasons, it’s good to accept that not all criticism is helpful.

How do they frame it?

As a final note, think about how the constructive feedback is framed.

If they have to label it as feedback, it’s not feedback

Apart from the accusation, there was something about the situation that made me feel uncomfortable, and I realised it was how the director framed the feedback:

“Let me give you some feedback that will help your performance in the workplace James…”

Opening a call to go straight into the ‘feedback’ makes you think it was done with one purpose… to cause hurt.

If they have to label it as feedback, it’s not feedback

What’s in a name?

Then there was this:

“Let me tell you James…”

“Now, James…”

“be careful what you say James…”

Why were they saying my name a lot?

In the book How to win friends and influence people Dale Carnegie said

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Build rapport with a person, acknowledge their existence, I get it.

But why did it feel like I was being threatened?

Carnegie emphasised the importance of using a person’s name to make them feel special, but it can be used in a more sinister way – to draw your attention.

Think about it –

If you’re drifting in a meeting and someone says your name, followed by a question, what do you do?

That’s right, you become more alert, and start paying attention.

Like some sort of gangster movie, overusing a person’s name is a way of saying “I know who you are… listen to me…or else…”

If your name seems to be getting over used, ask yourself:

Is this advice being offered, or are they telling me?

What to do if you feel the feedback isn’t accurate?

Throughout this post we’ve looked at what might be bad feedback.

When you receive this, and you’re sure what is being said isn’t quite right, but you have doubts that it might just be YOU unable to process a difficult truth, try the following:

Seek a second opinion

Speak to other people you trust, who have good judgement, no bias to see you in a positive manner, who have nothing to lose or gain by telling you the truth with constructive criticism.

Always find the original source (as much as possible)

If you’re struggling with what you need to do with the criticism, it can help to speak to the original person the issue has come from.

They can give you a more accurate account of what they mean (if they have a problem at all)

Do nothing

In this post, I shared another troublesome time when I worked under a manager in child protection.

She often called me out for things I had, and hadn’t done, that it got to a point I was too stressed to do anything!

It was there I decided trying to improve was futile to this person.

For the rest of my time, until I left that place I did nothing about it except keep my head down, got on with my work and avoided dealing with them as much as possible.

Often when someone is acting on an ulterior motivate, that’s all you can do.

Final musings

There is a fine line between being recognising what is valid and what is not useful feedback.

If you say you’re open to constructive criticism, it can be a conflicting time trying to find solutions to problems that don’t exist.

But you do need to be careful that you don’t close yourself off to receiving positive or negative feedback, otherwise you won’t improve.

Take care what opinions others other offer, and decide what you want to carry forward.

Wishing you the best in your success

James @Perfect Manifesto

Copyright © 2023 James M.Lane


2 thoughts on “What To Do With Constructive Feedback? (When You Think It’s Wrong!)

  1. Regardless of the kind of feedback you receive (positive or negative), I can’t help but feel weird that following or even thinking about the feedback no matter how good it is would ultimately lead me to disingenuous actions.

    Like, someone would say to not do it because this and that would happen and he’s right and I followed his advice, but there’s this feeling that I’ve lost my sincerity. Would it have been better and genuine if I did what was right and ethical impromptu without the knowledge of the outcome?


  2. Kind of overtly passive aggressive to say “I have some feedback for you moving forward”, it turning out to be unsubstantiated negative words.

    When someone starts being passive aggressive with me, my radar goes off and I sit back to observe the overall situation. If it doesn’t sound like something I’d do, I say exactly that. Then I say “I’m confused, that doesn’t sound like me at all. Please tell me more. When did this happen and what was said?”

    I had a scenario like that, not at work, and I asked for more information so I could understand. The person said they preferred to set up a meeting with the other person and when we all sat down together I heard what the other person said. Turned out they had completely misunderstood what I had said, attributed a negative connotation to it, and then went on a mission to rat me out and make me look bad.

    The fact that I had kept calm, asked for more information and then had an opportunity to explain myself helped to resolve the whole situation. Turned out the other person had a negative experience with someone else and was looking to get their own anger and frustration out, I became the target.

    Asking for further clarification and a meeting to clarify it is perfectly fine to do, and is advisable. A) we don’t want to carry that unresolved issue around with us to our future, and b) we never know when we run into people in the future or if they badmouth us to future colleagues or future managers.

    Asking for clarification isn’t confrontational when we approach it calmly to be able to clarify it. I was always afraid to do that previously but once I started practicing it I saw that people appreciated being able to clear the air. They ended up feeling better too, that they weren’t left with a bad taste in their mouth about me. It goes both ways!


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