According to 13 Experienced Speakers
Negative feedback or bad review? Do this first.
It’s happened to all of us. You’ve given a presentation, written an article, or launched a new product. And a customer, reader, or audience member tells you that you missed the mark. Your presentation fell flat, or your product just isn’t what they wanted. What’s the best way to respond?
To find out, bloggers at the infographic creation company Venngage asked 57 speakers at last year’s Inbound marketing conference what they do when they received negative feedback. Their answers are diverse and insightful. You can find the full list here. These are some of the best:
First of all, it’s important to listen to all negative feedback and to make sure the source of the feedback knows you’re listening. “Often, when people are upset, they just want to feel heard,” observes Jack Jostes, president of Ramblin Jackson.
2. Ask questions.
This may or may not be possible, depending on the situation. But if it’s possible (and appropriate) ask the source of the feedback for specifics and clarifications until you’re sure you fully understand. “Your first impulse may be to move on from the uncomfortable moment right away, but the only way to genuinely move on is to make sure you understand what’s behind it,” says Meghan Keaney Anderson, VP of marketing at HubSpot. “Get the feedback to a less generalized and more actionable place. That way you can actually do something about it.”
3. Say thank you.
This is so simple and yet so powerful. Even if someone has ripped into you, some version of “Thank you for sharing,” is appropriate in almost any situation. If someone is being negative in a spiteful way, then thanking them for their feedback gives you the moral high ground. If they really are trying to help you or are expressing a heartfelt opinion, then you really should be grateful because at the very least they’ve taken the time and effort to engage with you when it would be so much simpler to just go on with their lives. And they may have given you information that can help you improve your presentation or product in the future.
“The only real response you need to make is ‘thanks’–and then to try to take on board what the person said and how it can help you,” says Doug Kessler, co-founder of Velocity.
4. Don’t take it personally.
This is easier said than done, of course. But if you’re putting your work out into the world, you will inevitably encounter negative feedback and it’s important not to let it derail you.
“After I dust off my bruised ego I realize that the only way I am going to get better is to take constructive feedback and realize that there is always room for improvement,” says motivational speaker Bryn Drescher. “I also remind myself is that you cannot please everyone no matter what you do, so be open to feedback but don’t take it so personally it cripples you and your message.”
5. Take time to cool off.
You’re best off not responding to negative feedback (even in your own mind) when you first hear it. “One of the best pieces of advice I was given about dealing with negative feedback is to wait 24 hours before reacting,” says Rachel Sprung, senior manager, growth marketing at HubSpot. “During that time you can really dig into the feedback and figure out where it is coming from and what it means. You will also figure out how to calm down if you were upset or caught off guard by hearing the negative feedback.”
Of course, sometimes a 24-hour cooling off period isn’t good enough. So Kristen Craft, director of business development at Wistia recommends writing down the negative feedback, and then revisiting in in a month, after you’ve gotten over your initial emotional reaction. “The first time you think about it, you’re hurt,” she explains. “The second time you think about it, you’re like, ‘OK, I see where it’s coming from.’ The third time you know how to respond to it. The act of writing it down lets you process it and reflect on it.”
6. Consider the source.
Many of the speakers say they look at the source when deciding whether to act on negative feedback or just shrug it off. Does the person offering the feedback have the right kind of expertise? And what is his or her motivation?
“Unless it’s from someone I know well and trust, I find that most people who give negative feedback do it out of jealousy or because they’re pissed off that you are the center of attention and they aren’t,” notes motivational speaker Warren Greshes.
7. Use it as an opportunity to learn.
“I thrive on negative feedback because you can learn much more from it,” says Ja-Nae Duane, author of The Startup Equation. “Whether it is identifying if your message resonates with your audience or if someone didn’t like your dress, these types of feedback always come with the story of ‘why.’ And when you learn the reason why someone didn’t care for you or your work, then you know if you are hitting your mark.”
8. Look for the gap between what you intended and what they heard.
Very often, negative feedback is the result of miscommunication in some form, many of the speakers report. When negative feedback seems wrong, “I consider whether I simply disagree with the person who delivered the feedback or if they have the wrong perception,” says Debbie Farese, director of marketing at HubSpot. “If the latter, there may be things I should do to shift their misconceptions and/or make sure others aren’t misled in the future.”
9. Look for the wisdom of the crowd.
You don’t need to fixate on every single criticism, but you do need to remember that we live in an age where companies ignore customer viewpoints at their peril. “Embracing negative feedback is akin to hiring the hackers,” says Chester Branch, Ph.D., transmedia architect at MediaShift. “Often the end-user/fan understands the product better than the initial manufacturer. We must accept that we live in a crowd-sourced prosumer movement where the consumer is also part producer.”
10. Use it to improve your own feedback.
“I would start by saying what can I learn from this and sometimes what we can learn is how to give better feedback to other people,” says speaking coach Alexia Vernon.
11. Respond–if appropriate–but run your response by someone else first.
“For local businesses who receive negative reviews, I always recommend that they respond,” Jostes says. “If you know the person who posted a review, try calling them to see what their experience was and how you can make it up to them.”
Otherwise, he advises, “Post a reply to the review. Do your best not to be defensive. Have someone else proofread your review to make sure there isn’t a negative tone.”
12. Balance bad with good.
For evolutionary reasons, the human brain tends to focus on the negative rather than the positive. So fight that tendency by making sure to pay attention to compliments as well as criticisms.
“I work hard at managing both good and bad feedback,” says keynote speaker Brian Fanzo. “If I’m gonna spend 10 minutes analyzing and being frustrated at one bad comment or tweet or engagement, I need to make sure I spend an equal amount of time on good comments and engagement. Ideally I understand we can’t please everyone but too often we spend 15 minutes analyzing bad feedback and less than 30 seconds on the good.”
13. And then let it go.
Being able to let go of negative feedback is an important skill, many speakers stressed. “When I am given negative feedback I try to follow the two-step process of reflect and flush,” says sales trainer David Hoffeld. “I first ask myself, what I can learn from the feedback? What’s the lesson? Should I make a change? Then, once I’ve decided on what I am going to do, I mentally flush the feedback. I don’t want to dwell on anything negative. So, once I have a plan of action, I’m done with thinking about the feedback and I will refocus my mind on something else and move on.”
That may be the smartest advice of all.
Edward Kundahl, Ph.D., M.B.A.
Ed can be reached at (or visit his websites)