Take advantage of negative feedback

use negative feedback to your advantageThere are moments you become aware of reality as other people experience this with you… not always in a positive sense.

Negative feedback is often not in line with your own self-image. You might not even recognize it.

If you are confronted with this kind of negative feedback you may choose to ignore it. But you can also choose to examine the feedback and use it to your advantage.

Negative feedback is useful to achieve you goals quicker and more effectively together with other people. How do you do this?

Accept and use negative feedback

In the first place it’s only possible to use negative feedback after you have first accepted it. In our opinion its necessary, if only for practical reasons, to learn how to accept that people say or do certain things without remaining stuck in feeling hurt or having your self-confidence permanently damaged.

Much is to be gained here in inner calm and the self-confidence that you are able to give an adequate response. To make this possible you need to learn how you accept negative feedback. More about this later.

Once you have accepted the negative feedback you can then use it to your advantage. Negative feedback enables you to learn how you can achieve your goal more easily with these people.

What is feedback?

In a certain way feedback is nothing more than information that people give you. It’s information about what they need so you can achieve your goal.

Of course we are not talking here about feedback that goes against your values and against the normal rules of behaviour. We’re talking about normal feedback that people give you about your behaviour, as they experience it.

Feedback says something about what people need from you

Why do you sometimes find it hard to accept negative feedback, or even find it hard to recognize? This is because you behave the way you do directed by your own point of view and worldview. Other people look at you from their own point of view and perspective. Apparently, from their point of view, they need other things from you than you are giving them.

Their experience does not need to be true or even correct. It’s true for them, and thereby becomes valuable information about what they need.

An adequate response to negative feedback

As we said before, it’s necessary first to accept the feedback others give you, however painful that may be.

Accept that other people operate from a different reality: their own. Their feedback is not necessarily ‘true’, but it is true for them.

Examine how you can deal with this information in a manner that is suitable to who you are. Often it is very helpful to engage a coach in the process of learning how to deal with negative feedback.

In the process of accepting that the reality of other people is a given the coach will teach you the right self-management skills. Good coaching will help you to apply these. You do this while confronting what people say and do in the situations you want to be able to deal with.

The coach acts as a guide. At the same time the coach represents those aspects of other people’s behaviour you find it difficult to handle. You receive the feedback, the information and the skills to adapt your behaviour in a suitable way. Suitable means it fits with who you are, while you will be able to give others what the need in a natural manner.

You will find the self-confidence to deal with situations and interactions where before you were not, or insufficiently so.

See negative feedback as an advantage

In a way, you should be happy that you are getting negative feedback. These people take the trouble to inform you how you can get better at achieving your goal. (Often people don’t even give you feedback directly – they do however share their point of view with others. A coach can play a role here as well – by letting you experience how others might perceive you).

After you have learned to accept that others have their own point of view, you are able to start using their feedback as valuable information. Your behaviour and how these people perceive it might be a missing link between you and achieving your goal.

Look at it as a kind of instruction manual. If you want to achieve a certain goal with these people, you need to take into account what they need from you. Find out what it is they need, and then find a way to give them what they need in a way that fits with who you are. You’ll get ahead together.

© Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

Take advantage of our coaching offer

Dealing with negative feedback and using it to your advantage is a soft skill. Applying this soft skill takes resilience, as well as a certain self-insight and self-confidence. As indicated in the article above, coaching in applying this skill to use negative feedback to your advantage is very helpful. Look at our coaching offer and see if we are the coach for you.

When you liked this article, you might also likeCritical feedback? Here’s how to receive it, or: How to get the feedback you need to get ahead.

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How to get the feedback you need to get ahead


How do you really know if you’re getting ahead?

Of course, there are your results. They’ll tell you if you’re on the right track. But if you really want to improve yourself and get ahead, you need to get the proper feedback. How to get the feedback you need to get ahead?

What feedback do you need?

The result of the feedback should be concrete, specific, explicit, and actionable. This kind of feedback enables you to improve something that relates to you and your goal.

You need the feedback to come from someone who is able to discern what is right for you, that is: what works for you. This is someone who is capable to judge the facts and also present them in a manner that is critical, but acceptable.

Feedback you need is based on appreciation

In order to be able to listen to a critical message (even to one you have invited) there has to be a measure of appreciation in the mix. If the feedback is too critical, most people will start to defend themselves or reject the message outright. You will have a hard time picking up on the valuables in the feedback.

This is of course a defense against what most of us experience as the fear of being rejected. But keep in mind that the person giving you the feedback has this fear as well.

Giving feedback is not that easy

Giving feedback is one of the hard things to do, even (or maybe especially) when it is invited. When there is hierarchy involved, it is potentially career menacing. In general, people who don’t do feedback for a living find it hard to be completely open and honest in their feedback. Yet, that is what you need – open and constructive feedback.

Be aware that as much as you need a measure of appreciation, so does the other person. If you want to receive feedback in an appreciative manner, you should give appreciation. Talk the issue of openness over with the person you invite to give you feedback.

Feedback that works is based on constructive criticism

While appreciation is needed, you are looking for what you need to improve. This does not mean you are inviting a negative critique, however. You aim for constructive criticism. Constructive means the criticism should contribute to enabling you to improve on the issues you have asked feedback on. For the criticism to have value it must be reality based and to the point.

‘Constructive’ literally means that it holds together. Constructive feedback also has to hold both participants together. Hence the feedback process has to be of value to you both.

Both of these preconditions of constructive feedback mean that preparation before you have the feedback conversation is an absolute necessity. You need to prepare the ground for construction. You also need to define what makes it of value to you both.

Getting the feedback you need: The preparation

To design the process of constructive feedback, you first have to arrange your own thoughts. In order to do so, answering the following questions in keywords will be helpful.

  • What is the goal?
  • On what do I want/need feedback?

Next think about the process of feedback.

  • When is it appreciative and constructive for you?
  • What values or principals should be included for the process to be of value to you both?

The goal is to find something that gives both of you direction through the process. Goal and objective give direction to the feedback itself. Shared values create trust and as soon as they are experienced, the process becomes reliable. The effect will be the space to give constructive feedback and to listen to it with peace of mind.

Getting the feedback you need: The process

Invite someone specifically for the process of giving you constructive feedback. Explain what you want and why you ask this particular person for his or her feedback.

Be aware that the request can be awkward for the other person. Be clear about what you need the feedback for, and how you see the process (as discussed above).

The process is constructive when it is reliable for both on all issues that are personally important. This could be for instance trust, safety, certain emotions both would like to avoid, or the timing and duration one needs.

Getting the feedback you need: what it brings you

Talent does not come ready made. It needs to be worked at. To get to the little details that count, the extra nuance that you cannot see yourself, getting constructive feedback is invaluable.

Be sure to prepare and execute the process well. It will help you reach new goals and make it possible for you to become really good at what you do.

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

The Good Career & Life, coaching for professionals:
Giving constructive feedback is what we do for a living. If you are interested in using our ability to function as your ‘outside eyes and ears’, please contact us for an introductory exploration. Giving and receiving feedback is one of the soft skills we coach managers and professionals in.

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Get your message across the way you intended


Getting your message across and have it be understood the way you meant – that is what you hope to achieve in any communication.

How to get your message across the way you intend it? It should be easy, but often it turns out to be surprisingly difficult.

Do you recognize this situation? You say something to someone, or write a message. You think your message has come across clearly.

But then you notice something. The effect is not at all what you intended. When you ask why, you usually discover the other person has interpreted your message in his or her own way.

What should you take into account in order to prevent this and get your message across as you intend it?

Of course, we don’t have a solution for all situations. We do have some ideas about what would help if you consider these points. Most of all, you should be aware of the two sides of the message: your side, and the side of the receiver. Let’s start with you.

What’s your message?

When you call a friend of ours and get his voicemail, this is what you hear:

‘Hi, this is Brian, after the beep please say who you are and what your message is.’

So far, nothing unusual. You just wait for the beep. But then you hear: ‘Don’t assume this is easy, because mankind has been thinking about this for millennia…’

Now, we don’t recommend you to take equally long thinking about who you are and what your message is, but we do recommend you take some time for it. In fact, we think it’s crucial to prepare your message to get your message across. These are the points we think you should look at in preparing your message:

1. Who you are determines how you get your message across

Your manner of communicating says something about who you are, and people react accordingly. If you communicate a message in a way that is not coherent with whom you are, people won’t believe you.

2. Your message should be coherent with your intention

Coherent literally means ‘to stick together’. Your message itself should also be coherent – coherent with your intention. That’s why you should not only take time about what you say, but primarily focus on what you intend with your message. A message that is coherent sticks together as an information carrier and is in accordance with what you really intend.

  • If the message is delivered in line with who you are,
  • and is in itself coherent with what you intend,
  • then the message will be a means that helps to stick together you and the other person in a meaningful exchange. You have a good chance to get your message across as you intended.

What does your message mean to the other person?

However, what is meaningful to you isn’t necessarily meaningful to the other person in the same manner.

When Shakespeare’s Juliet hears Romeo’s surname and understands that his family is the enemy of her own she says:

‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.’get-your-message-across-as-intended

You assume that if a rose was your message it would carry the meaning of a rose for the other person, wouldn’t you? Listen to Bart Simpson’s view on the matter when Lisa says, ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.[1]

Bart: ‘Not if you called ’em stench blossoms’.

So you may think you offer a rose, but perhaps the message is less coherent and smells offensively according to the one you aim to communicate with.

This is mostly decided by the other person’s perception of you and your message. To tackle this problem in the communication approached from your side, this requires that you decide what you want the other to become aware of.

Get your message across the way you intend it

Here you have to be aware of something yourself. Getting your message across is mainly about what you show people, not only about what you tell them. Up to 90% of your communication is given meaning by the other person by everything but the words you speak – it’s given meaning by what you show.

Research shows again and again that close to all people aiming to get a message across mainly focus on the content, that is: the words. We just assume that when we say it is a rose the other person sees and smells a rose.

However, the other person (everyone you meet, including the ones that know you intimately) interpret what you say in line with what they recognize – and what they recognize is first what you show them, and only later what you tell them.

People interpret what you show and tell them according to their own frame of reference and point of view. This can mean that your rose can potentially be a ‘stench blossom’ to someone else.

Design a strategy to get your message across

Your task in getting your message across is to design a strategy specifically aimed at the other person’s predilections. Show and tell that your message is a rose. Work out beforehand what you want the perception to be. Prepare yourself, your message is worth it.

Below, you’ll find the steps you should take to insure your message gets across as you intend it.

A step-by-step guide to get your message across 

Step 1

Coherent, as we said, means to stick together. In practical terms, coherent communication is communication that is understood as it is intended.

This implies that if you tell someone about a rose, the other person recognizes this, and acknowledges that indeed it means that it is a rose for you. (The rose of course is the analogy we used before. It stands for the topic of the communication.)

This requirement specifically does not imply that what you communicate should be a rose for the other person as well. All it has to accomplish is that what you say and show is recognized as a rose and acknowledged as a rose. This is Part 1 of the process.

Step 2

Part 2 is focused on the other person. You know what the rose in question specifically means for the other person and you apply this knowledge to this part of your communication. This enables the other person to recognize what you mean in his or her own terms and experience.

Step 3

The last phase of the communication is focused on formulating and articulating what you have in common of what your rose consists of and what the rose of the other person consists of. The results of this part should be, so to speak, a bouquet of both flowers.

The above is of course a rational schematic representation. Yet it is worthwhile to prepare yourself using this approach. You become aware of many aspects you overlooked before, or ignored, or that were unknown to you. You insure the best possible chance your message will get across as you intended.

© Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf,

[1] The Simpsons, Second episode, season 9; the principal and the pauper.

Getting your message across the way you intended is necessary to give effective feedback. Giving and receiving feedback is one of the soft skills we coach managers and professionals in.

We can help you get your message across effectively in a way that is especially suited to you and your situation. We provide you with a tailor-made report on your style of communication, coupled with a conversation on how to make the best use of it.

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Interested in getting your message across?

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Getting your message across: Make people want to receive it

how-to-get-your-message-across-1Getting your message across can sometimes feel like throwing a bottle with a message in it in the waves. Who knows how your message gets across? Actually, there is a way to make people want to receive your message.

Why would you pick up a message in a bottle?

A small story to illustrate the point. Once, walking on the beach with a gale blowing, we noticed someone running into the high breakers. Alternately the surf swallowed the man and seemed to spit him out. We ran closer. After a few tries the man grabbed something and let the tide bring him back to the shore. He scrambled up, and we noticed he was holding a bottle. We went up to him and asked him: ‘Why did you put yourself to all this trouble and danger to pick up a bottle?’ ‘Look’, he said, ‘There’s a message in it!’

What makes someone go after a message in a bottle? Or, to put it more in line with getting your message across: Why would someone really want to receive your message? We’ll touch lightly on the content of your message, but concentrate largely on the ‘getting across’ part. Why does someone want to pick up your message in a bottle?

Let’s look at getting your message across in such a way that people will want to receive it.

What is a message?

First let’s see what a message essentially is.

• A message is something with an intended meaning that needs to be received by someone.

The implication of this proposition is that the meaning of a message is composed of the content as well as the process of communication.

Make your content suitable

First, the content. Of course, you will strive to shape your content in a way you think the one you intend to receive it will understand. Preparation is key here. What exactly is the content of what you want to get across? (We wrote another post about this that you might want to read: Getting your message across in the way you intended).

Once you’ve got that sorted out, you will have to start thinking about expressing the content in a way that is suitable to the receiver.
What would be suitable to your receiver?

People have an open mind for what really interests them.

This may sound like a cliché; yet once you know what interests someone, you also know how to shape your message in a suitable way. Suitable is what enables the other person to understand the meaning of the message as it is meant by you, the sender. Think about the other person, and shape your message accordingly. (By the way, are you aware that we developed a system that enables you to recognise what is important to other people? If you’re curious about this, contact us now.)

A message is only a message when it’s been received

Here lies the difficulty. Content can be put together in words. You can make those words suitable to the one who is supposed to receive the message. At best this is only half of the meaning the other will give to the message. Making the content suitable is important – but here’s the thing: A message is only a message when it has been received. The bottle has to be picked up first.

That’s where the process comes into play. There’s the message, and there’s the process of getting it across. That process is either suitable or unsuitable. The suitability of the process determines the other half of getting your message across.

The mind of the receiver shapes how your intention comes across. Your message has an intention. You want to convey something to someone else. For you, the one who sends the message, it is clear what you intend to get across. However, this intention is unknown to the other person – until he or she has received your message as you intended it.

Here’s an important one:
The meaning of the message is not determined by your intention, but shaped by the direction of the mind of the receiver. If the receiver of the message feels appreciated or criticized, this determines the meaning of what this person receives.

No meaning is well received until your motive, objective, purpose, reasoning, and considerations are understood as you intend them. How do you make your intentions understood?

Your message received

Interpret this for a moment as something you have to do physically. You want to reach someone, and you can only do this by stretching out to the other person. You stretch as far as possible. This symbolizes your intention.

However, your stretch alone will never reach the other person. He or she has to stretch towards you, too.

Now why would someone do that? Why would someone make the effort? Why would they run into the waves to retrieve the message in a bottle?

Act in a way the other person feels as inclusive

For this to happen you have to include the other person in the manner how you act towards them. Including the other person will only work – you’ve guessed it – when you act in a way the other person can interpret as inclusive. That differs from person to person, and from situation to situation, but there are some general guidelines.

Most communications aren’t that challenging. It’s all about a normal stretch people are willing to make. We all respond in the same way when someone is friendly, interested in us and open. Even when the message asks for something different than friendliness, genuine interest in the other and openness from you usually elicits a similar response. People will understand your message, because the other person was able to receive it. See if your process of communication is up to this par.


Why would someone pick up your message?

All that is left then is to figure out why someone would hazard the waves to get your message. Ask yourself: what would the other person need? See yourself through the other’s ‘eyes’ and attempt to fathom what the other person needs from you to want to receive your message in the way you intend it.

Why would you?
If you know your own reason to retrieve a message in a bottle, you can perhaps imagine why someone else would.

© Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

To help you prepare your message in order to get it across as you intended, we offer you a free checklist:

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Getting your message across is necessary to give effective feedback. Giving and receiving feedback is one of the soft skills we coach managers and professionals in.

We help you get your message across effectively in a way that suits you and your situation. We provide you with a tailor-made report on your style of communication, coupled with a conversation on how you make the best use of it.

Read more about:
Our coaching
Our coaching packages
A typical coaching process
How to choose the right coach for you

Interested in how to make people want to receive what you have to say?

Book your (free) call here, or contact us directly.

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How to get your feedback accepted

feedback-acceptedTo be productive, you need your feedback to be accepted. Yet it’s a fact that people often feel rejected by getting feedback. Usually, this perception of rejection leads to the feedback being rejected in its turn. This of course is counter-productive in many ways. So how do you give feedback in such a way it won’t be rejected but accepted?

Feedback as ‘bad news’

What you need to prevent is that the feedback receiver experiences rejection as a direct consequence of your feedback. This is not an easy task. Of course you don’t give feedback with the intention of rejecting the other person. Unfortunately, people will perceive and experience rejection unrelated to what your purpose was.

Getting feedback is one of those moments most people tend to associate with ‘bad news’. It is often felt as the rejection of something they said or did. Added to that is the irrational, but nevertheless present emotion of feeling rejected personally.

Rationally, this reaction is very unproductive. The one thing that could really help our development and productivity we would rather avoid. Emotionally, there is a huge opportunity here for someone who is able to give feedback in a way that avoids engendering the feeling of rejection. Someone who can do this is someone people trust, go to and want to listen to.

Process tops content

People interpret what is being said not on the content only, or even mainly. People tend to judge what something means mainly on the process – the way in which you bring the message. When you become aware of this, you can learn how to handle the process. People will understand the message as you meant it. What is more: they will appreciate the undeniable fact that you appreciated them instead of rejected them. They will be ready to listen to your feedback.

How do you appreciate someone while giving feedback?

Forget all protocol and training about feedback. There is just one factor that determines if it will be productive.

  • Don’t give feedback until you are able to be appreciative.

Feedback is best served cold

When are you able to be appreciative? One way of being appreciative is not to act while you are experiencing emotions that are unappreciative.

There are six main emotions, each of which of course has a variety of personal descriptions, names and connotations. Yet worldwide we recognise the facial expressions of these six emotions, and give them the same meaning. These basic emotions are: happiness, surprise, fear, anger, disgust and sadness. [1].

Happiness is the only emotion that is undeniably linked to appreciation. The other five tend to lead to rejection of the person who caused these emotions.

The message should be clear. Don’t give feedback as long as you feel angry, shocked, sad, disgusted or afraid. You have to feel a productive emotion, that is: the capability and willingness to achieve connection and inclusion.

The process of giving feedback appreciatively

Of course this isn’t easy to accomplish when the starting point is one of the five emotions that do not lead to appreciation. For the sake of the argument let’s condense the experience to this. Someone did or said something that makes you feel one of the five emotions other than happiness. You need to give feedback to this person, to correct what has been said or done.

The most productive action to take at first is to take no action at all. Wait until you have digested what happened and are able to talk about it calmly, without the risk of making the other feel rejected and reject your feedback in turn.

When you have your feedback conversation, avoid all forms of criticism. Be aware what is your own judgment and opinion, and be sure to frame them that way. Try to ascertain the facts. Include the other person in this process. Ask if he or she could give some meaning to what happened. What did they mean?

Including the other person in the process and allowing them to give their intention, meaning and point of view takes away most of the tension from the feedback conversation.

The receiver determines the success of your feedback

All this will only feel good to apply when you are able to consider the situation of giving feedback from the receiving end. The receiving end determines the success of an action. Of course you cannot control how something is received, but you can control how it will be perceived. People notice an invitational attitude.

For this you need to digest what happened and return to calm behavior. Then be invitational. This leads to connection and inclusion, instead of rejection and exclusion. Once this is achieved, people are usually inclined to transform their behavior, learn, and meet you halfway. Your feedback will be accepted instead of rejected.

Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

The Good Career & Life coaching for professionals

We advice you in the process of giving appreciative feedback. Everyone has his or her own manner. We find the way that best suits you, leading to your feedback being accepted and implemented.

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Giving and receiving feedback is one of the soft skills we coach managers and professionals in.

[1] This is a categorization used by Paul Edman. Paul Ekman is an American psychologist who pioneered the study of emotions as they relate to facial expressions .

Giving feedback to your boss

bossGiving feedback to your boss can be a tricky thing. Feedback in a hierarchical situation adds the dimension of power to the equation. In theory, constructive feedback should be welcomed. But it takes two to tango. Will the boss in question believe in the importance of telling truth to power as well?

First we describe a solution for giving effective feedback about professional issues to your boss. We close with how to give respectful feedback that concerns personal issues.

Feedback should lead to result improvement

Feedback has as its primary function that something can be assessed, and if necessary improved on. Giving feedback to people at work should in the first place be directed at why you are there together: to achieve an agreed result. The feedback should address how you can improve on the process of achievement. This is no different when you are giving feedback to your boss.

The power relation in giving feedback to your boss

The complicating factor with giving feedback to your boss is the power relation. Our description of giving feedback that will lead to improvement of results is essentially how you should treat feedback to your colleagues. In the case of giving feedback to your boss there is one important difference: there is more on the line for you. It should be clear to your boss that your feedback is not criticism. Your feedback is (or should be) a constructive report on how you assess the situation and its consequences for achieving results.

What you should do when giving feedback to your boss

First of all, you should prepare yourself. Preparation is always a good idea. In the case of giving feedback to your boss it is essential. You don’t want to give your boss the impression that you are not able to do your job, or are someone who shirks responsibility through criticism.
This is what you need to prepare:

  • Look at the issue in the light of the task at hand

Think about the issue you wish to give feedback about. Explore in what way the carrying out of your task is hindered. Taking on a task means you take responsibility for it. Look at what responsibility literally means for a moment. Are you able to give the necessary response? Can you do what the task needs in order to fulfill what is asked of you?

  • Specify what is the constraint on achieving your results

Assess the feedback issue. Determine whether the complicating factor that you need to give feedback on forces you to do too much, or allows you to do too little. In both cases it concerns a constraint limiting you in effectiveness.

  • Don’t make it personal, keep it professional

You should make it clear to your boss that your concern is work and result related. The aim of your feedback is addressing an issue that is negatively impacting your ability to achieve the result you have taken responsibility for.

Feel for yourself the distinction between receiving feedback related to you personally, or feedback linked to achieving the result. The issue at hand (the focus of the feedback) may be personal – some behavior, language or e.g. habits – but never, ever make it about the person. You have to put the feedback, even when it concerns a personal aspect, into words regarding the work.

Perhaps the opportunity to talk about the personal issue in personal terms offers itself later, when the conversation is under way and the person receiving the feedback has digested the feedback. The important thing is that you address what limits you in your effectiveness to achieve your task , so it can be dealt with.

How to give feedback to your boss about a personal issue

Sometimes things are really personal and cannot be dealt with simply by talking about work results. This is the case when the issue concerns some aspect of behavior that whatever you do will be personal. Something has happened that you cannot accept and it must be set right.

Never act on this when it is still emotional for you. Wait, find relaxation, digest the issue, talk it over with people you trust. N.B. Do NOT discuss these personal issues you have with your boss with your colleagues. Always discuss the issue with your boss first.

Find words that don’t blame, shame or inflame, but frame the issue in a way that makes reflection possible and rejection impossible.

Examine the issue and resolve whether it concerns just you or others as well.

Establish what the condition is of the person when he or she does the thing you need to give feedback about. Attempt to figure out what the person aims at, what is it that this person experiences and what probably drives the behavior.

It is the result that counts

There are two main reasons why people find it difficult to behave in this restrained manner. They either confound understanding with condoning or stay stuck in feeling hurt and want some kind of gratification or payback. But however personal the issue may be, giving feedback to your boss remains about giving feedback in a professional context. Feedback has as its only function to address a constraint and find a solution. That is best done when you remain professional. It is the result that counts.

We look forward to hearing from you,

Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

The Good Career & Life coaching for professionals:

We can provide you with feedback and advice on how to give feedback to your boss, both  professionally and personally.

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Giving and receiving feedback is one of the soft skills we coach managers and professionals in.

How to deal with intense emotions in a work situation

dealing with intense emotionsDealing with intense emotions at work professionally and react in an appropriate manner can be learned. It is a critical component in giving and receiving feedback, as well as in handling conflicts effectively.

We have all been there. Someone (a colleague, a boss, a client) says something, or does something that makes us so angry we almost explode. Sometimes we catch ourselves too late and we do explode. We want nothing more than to blow off steam and stop the behavior that caused this explosion.

However, stopping the behavior that caused this intense emotion will not be possible while we are out of control ourselves. We need to gain stability first. This blogs shows you what to do.

The (dys)functionality of emotions

Ideally the emotion you feel is the experience of the appropriate physical response to an external stimulus. Something happens and you answer it correctly, with appropriate behavior.

Yet the reality is that we go through moments when we are overtaken by emotions and react accordingly. Our reaction is as vehement as the emotion we feel. Instead of appropriate, the response is not in proportion to what happened. A strong emotion, like for example anger, is like a team of runaway horses. The horses are much stronger than you are.

When your emotions are too strong for you, they cause a sense of losing control. Losing control, your reaction is inappropriate. Most likely the social focus will be on you and your inappropriate behavior, instead of on the one that caused the whole thing.

When horses bolt, controlling them is nearly impossible. The same applies to emotions that are too strong. The appropriate response to bolting horses and to out-of-control emotions is usually not an attempt to control them. A bolting horse is usually unresponsive to guidance or pressure. You cannot control your emotions either, by trying to control them. What should you do instead?

The functional response to intense emotions

Interpret it as if you are pushed out of balance. When you try to control the one who pushed you, you will increase your imbalance.

The first thing to do is regain your Stability. Next you Adapt to the situation and only now you are in the right condition to Transform both the situation and yourself. We call this functional response sequence SAT – Stability, Adaptation, and Transformation. (At the end of the article you’ll find a small test to assess your SAT-score. Free for you to download).

What to do when intense emotions occur in a work situation

Something happens at work – you experience intense emotions – your emotions cause you to lose control. Now, as we said before, trying to control the emotions probably won’t work. What to do instead?

We will first break it down to a rational process. This is just to show how it works. Next we’ll show you what to do to be able to exercise this rational behavior while you are highly emotional. The end product of this process is that you have regained enough stability to be able to react appropriately and professionally. You will adapt to the situation, and gain enough control to transform it.

1. Assess your Reaction

(Remember, this is a description of the rational process. You won’t be able to do this yet in the first few moments of the runaway emotions. We’ll come to that later.)

First, be as precise as possible in assessing what your reaction was, or is. Be specific. What do/did you think; words you wish to say or said; sensations in your body – where and what; what is your posture; do you feel tension – where, and what does it do: pulse, movement of your body; what is your facial expression; is there inside-out pressure in your eyes; what is the position of your shoulders, hips, knees; do you feel the ground under your feet? Anything else you notice may help as well.

Noticing these signs of what the emotion does to your body and thoughts gives you the opportunity to influence the emotion through your body. Unclench. Take a deep breath.

2. Ascertain there is a Trigger

Second, before you do or say anything at all, ascertain, i.e. establish with certainty that there is a trigger. What happened? Someone said or did something, you experienced an emotion, and the impulse to react followed on it.

To ascertain this sequence is critical. It will give you a first sense of regaining some mental control. Now you know the cause and effect relation.

3. Determine what the trigger amounts to

Third, determine what the external trigger amounts to. Specify:
What precisely did the other do or say?

Determining what the trigger was exactly gives you insight in what your proportionate reaction should be.

Give it Time

Once you are able to notice some of the above while in the middle of an intense emotion, you are like the driver behind the bolting horses that has ascertained there is no real danger. The horses may bolt, (your emotions may get out of hand), but all that is needed is to take the reins in hand and let them run out. This is how you are able to do this: Give it time.

Give it time and the horses will ease up. So will you. Real strong emotions take 15 to 22 seconds to burn out. (Yes, longer than counting to ten… :)) If you fight them you will burn out and they will burn on. You cannot fight what is stronger than you and expect to win.

It is all about regaining stability before you can do anything effectively.

  • Notice your reaction,
  • Ascertain there is a trigger,
  • Determine what happened exactly, and
  • Give it time.

Expect a low tide after a high tide

The intensity of the intense emotions is like a spring tide. It comes, but it will also go. Low tide always follows high tide, whatever the height of the tide. The problem with the tide in our emotional system is that we forget it comes and goes naturally by giving it time. The tide is sometimes just too strong, and we feel overwhelmed. We grow rigid. Often we literally freeze. As a consequence our mind freezes too. Or we fight what is happening, and go under in the waves. This leads to a confused mind. The result of both freezing and fighting is a situation that doesn’t have a resolution and cannot evolve into something new.

Take the time you need

What you don’t want is clear. You don’t want the strong emotion and its consequence of getting out of control. Yet horses do bolt, and emotions sometimes run away with you. Things happen. We react involuntarily to things we dislike. They befall us, but we don’t have to fall for them. All you need to do to be in control of any situation is: give yourself time to regain stability. All the rest is doable and can be learned step by step. Time is abundant; one absolutely sure sign of being overwhelmed is when your reflex tells you there is no time to lose.

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

The Good Career & Life coaching  for professionals:

Learning how to deal professionally with intense emotions in a work situation is an important soft skill. Coaching can help determine what exactly would suit your personal style best, and make the skill transferable to all intense work related situations (e.g. difficult conversations or dealing with confrontational people). Please contact us if you want to find out what this means for you.

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You might also be interested in: How to practice effective emotional control

Below you can ask for a free pdf to assess your SAT score: a functional response sequence to intense emotions. SAT = Stability, Adaptation, and Transformation. First you regain your Stability. Next you Adapt to the situation, then you are in the right condition to Transform both the situation and yourself.

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How to give feedback that works

Feedback-that-worksGiving feedback that works is a soft skill you can (and should…) learn. After all, why bother to give feedback if it doesn’t have any result?

In this article we will concentrate on how to give professional feedback to someone who has harmed your interests – and do it in a way that works.

Giving professional feedback when someone does something that harms your interests or hurts your feelings is not that easy. What you need is a way to give feedback that does more than retaliate. You need the feedback to lead to a positive outcome.

How do you do that? You feed what you need. Let’s explain what we mean by that.

Feedback should feed the right thing

Look at it in the following manner: Feedback either feeds or starves. In other words: feedback either increases the output you need, or it decreases it. The output is the result you need to achieve your goal.

Our position is to feed what you need. What you need is determined by the goal you want to achieve, and the gap with the current situation. Feedback should be about the gap, and how to bridge it.

Negative input leads to a negative output

All the above is rational talk, but you also have to deal with your emotions. When someone does something to you that harms your interests or hurts your feelings, your immediate reaction probably will not be focused on positive professional feedback. You would feel justified to give the kind of feedback that, in our terms, would potentially starve.

However, the sad reality is that hardly anyone will relate your negative reaction to the harmful thing done by him or her towards you. Instead of achieving self-reflection and change, you achieve that the other person feels the same as you: harmed and hurt. Put in merely logical cause and effect terms: Your negative input leads to a decrease in the output of the relation. You have starved the potential of the relation by following your immediate emotional response.

What you actually need is a response that affects the output positively. This is achieved by feeding the relation, i.e. giving feedback that feeds the outcome you need.

Feedback that does this should comprise both the right message and the person in question must want to receive it. Let’s see how you achieve this. We’ll start by giving you an example of the kind of feedback that does not contain the right message, and that people therefore don’t want to hear.

Feedback: the kind that doesn’t work

Your feedback message contains the information about the ‘thing’ that occurred. Now this information more or less falls in one of three categories. Take a recent incident where you gave feedback. See in which category your message could be placed, (that is, placed by the person you gave the feedback to).

  • Retaliation
  • Observation
  • Evaluation

Our position is that retaliatory feedback does not work in a way that leads to the required result. It’s not the right message, and people don’t want to hear it. It merely feeds back into the system ‘the thing’ you don’t want.

Why retaliation feedback does not work

Let’s illustrate this with a story. Imagine you are in a restaurant. The waiter serves you something really inedible. How feasible is positive change when you grab him and force-feed him back some of the food? Most dysfunctional and counter-productive feedback falls into this retaliation category.

But what if the food was really inedible? What if it ruined your evening? Even then, the best course is to look for what will give you the most ‘satisfaction’ in the end. Even when you are totally in the right about your position and emotions, it serves you better to avoid a nasty scene.

Giving feedback that works

Instead give feedback that works, and achieve gratification in the form of a complimentary good dinner. To stay with the analogy, technically this gratification is the purpose of proper feedback. The return information of the feedback should improve the performance.

Of course, this ‘rational’ approach remains tricky to achieve while you feel hurt or harmed. Therefore, like in all emotional loaded moments, do nothing until you have regained a form of inner rest. Although it might not feel like it at the moment something happens, all emotions wane quite soon when you leave them be.

Why Observation and Evaluation do work

Now let’s have a look at the kind of feedback that does work. What you need to feed is the willingness of the other person to improve his or her attitude and behavior. As said earlier, people seldom relate a reaction to what they have caused themselves. That is why Retaliation doesn’t work, and why Observation and Evaluation do work. Observation and Evaluation feed back into the system the ‘thing’ that has to be eliminated and what needs to change in a manner that leads to a positive outcome.

However, here you come to the second part of what is needed to give effective feedback. People have to want to receive your feedback. The message may be right, but it you also have to deliver it in such a way that it is received.

Feedback that works feeds what you need

People want to receive your feedback when you don’t put it in terms of blame or shame, but instead focus on the professional reason you give the feedback, and keep it to a factual description.

Remember what you are giving feedback for. This is not to retaliate, but first of all to achieve a positive change that improves the output of why you are together in the first place. You need to obtain certain objectives as colleagues. The feedback is given in the framework of this mutual goal you share.

Feedback that works in your favor is put in the right words. These are words that simply and factually describe what happened. It is just a description. You describe your Observations of what happened. Then you Evaluate what happened, putting it into the perspective of the professional goal.

Talk about what you described in a manner that is invitational instead of confrontational. Have a conversation about what the other meant by his or her actions or words. Then propose what needs to happen in order to achieve the professional goal you share.

This is how you feed what you need.

What you achieve by giving feedback that works

Feedback you give in this manner achieves two things:

  • You have a professional conversation with a high possibility of the required change.
  • The feedback conversation leads to an affirmation of the relation, making it easier to achieve your business objectives.

By Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

The Good Career & Life coaching for professionals

Giving effective, professional feedback even in emotional situations is a skill you can learn. Coaching can help. A coaching conversation will give you:
• Insight in your personal style and how you give effective professional feedback
• The tools you need to hone your skills to give effective professional situation in any situation, and achieve the positive result you need.
Feel free to inquire how you can profit from our offer.

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