Tactics for Tackling Negative Feedback (& How to Not Take It Personally)
We all hate being told that our efforts to complete a task aren’t good enough.
It’s simple enough to say I’ll learn from a mistake, but in the moment of receiving the feedback, it’s easy to feel anything from a little put-out to down-right broken hearted.
In the world of digital marketing and SEO, success is very much driven by the numbers, with a wide range of external factors influencing my hard work.
Whether the focus is on the agency or in-house side, there are similar pressures from budgets, demands of multiple departments, and the constant evolution of marketing ‘best-practice’.
So when the moment of negativity hits, it can be hard to handle everything at once.
Here’s the crunch point I often find myself staring at:
Do I over-reach to remedy the fault?
Do I let it go and learn from it?
Do I try for something in between?
When working with passionate, target-driven marketing managers or business owners, there is no simple answer.
But what is common is that negative feedback shouldn’t haunt you, nor should it impact how you see yourself as a digital professional.
Ultimately, mistakes are made, even by the best and today’s Friday Focus is my walkthrough of how I tackle and deal with negative feedback.
1. Break Down the Error or Issue and Consider the Wider Context
One step I always consider, is to look at the potential consequences of the issue. If they are already known, I tend to use these to balance out the negativity of the feedback.
We can’t reverse whatever caused the negativity, but I usually consider what led to the frustration and all of the related parts.
One example I tackled was a search-focused project that, after one year, was forecasted to achieve a target, yet fell short. At the same time, revenue still increased year on year. A bittersweet result for all involved.
As expected, I received a negative phone call, asking for justification and a solution.
I was quickly looking to provide a solution that, in the short term, wasn’t possible. So instead of promising that, I had to consider what led to the shortfall and how further work, would achieve the full potential of the organic sales.
Within this solution, context was crucial and allowed the negative to be viewed in a balanced way.
If the wider context doesn’t help, take steps to break down the issue into smaller parts, covering what lead to it and the exact impact. This allows for a better understanding of how a resolution can be achieved.
2. Judge the Situation Before Responding
Depending on the situation, I aim to take time to judge the context of the message and again, how the solution can be approached.
With real-time communication, it’s unlikely a solution can be brought to the surface immediately.
No marketer should be ashamed in taking time away from the pressure to think clearly. I find, even with the toughest comments, a moment away from the heat does wonders for my state of mind.
If a response is expected immediately, I try not to panic or believe I am on the back foot. It’s a tough challenge for anyone to tackle negative comments on the spot.
There’s no exact science here, but a simple way that helps me is to stick to the facts I know.
Whether that is justification for a delay, overspend or something else, it might be only partially addressing the point, but it helps balance the situation.
Finally, on this point, I try to remember, whoever I talk to, has pressures like the rest of us and that can often be the driver of the comments. In short, it’s highly likely to be nothing personal.
3. Own the Feedback
Whatever way I receive the feedback, I stop and try not to panic and remember it’s my situation to control.
Time is, within reason, on my side and this can be used to craft a solution that I am comfortable with.
For any marketer, it’s crucial to now internally chew stew on the negativity. My key steps are to take notes of any comments, be proud of my ability and then work to address the feedback when I have a plan.
4. Remember, the Feedback Isn’t Against You as a Person
Most negative comments are driven by business.
Digital marketing, especially search, has success driven by numbers with a threat of intense competition.
Should the worst happen and I lose a client over the issue, I remember one thing, I’m no worse a marketer or a person because of this and, if anything I can learn and improve!
5. Don’t Respond With Anger
It’s really easy to feel judged in this situation, but hard to overcome that feeling.
I totally understand that, business owners and marketing managers, are passionate about their business and their targets.
If my agency missed a client target or didn’t deliver on time, an angry response towards the negative feedback will only make things worse.
The situation isn’t about being the better person. It’s more of an opportunity to start a conversation rather than a one-way rant. Ultimately, anger just makes the person on the other side, even more negative!
The last thing anyone needs is a string of negative comments ringing in your ears that could have been avoided if you chose a less angry response.
6. Don’t Take It Home
If I’ve dealt with the issue and the feedback as much as I can, then I take steps not to stew or over analyze.
Negative words can sit and really impact my mental state if left they are given more time than necessary.
It can be easier said than done to offload, but take some time to concentrate on another task or run through the situation with a colleague who isn’t involved.
This isn’t something I do to shrug off the burden, but more of an opportunity to discuss at my pace (while making the feedback my own).
I’ve lost count of the times the views of someone else have helped me untangle a tricky situation.
7. Tell Your Side of the Story (When Appropriate)
I take this step as appropriate, depending on the tone of the feedback and the relationship. If I am prepared to, take some time in the conversation to defend or justify whatever has prompted the negative feedback.
Another example comes to mind for me here.
An old web design project was running on time from my team’s perspective, but wildly late from the client’s perspective.
My side of the story was that their previous designers had used a simple template approach, whereas we took a far more detailed approach that didn’t rely on pre-built components.
Therefore, the two timelines, couldn’t be compared. The simple input of my side of the story radically changed the tone of the conversation.
Some feedback I receive doesn’t leave me a chance to respond, whether I like it or not. So in this case, I don’t force a solution or comment, if the other person isn’t in a place to listen to them.
8. Leave the Discussion With a Next Step
Dealing with negative feedback is all about making a tough situation easier for me, while ideally solving a problem.
When it comes to any kind of business, let alone SEO, I find leaving things without a clear next step is a bad move. It doesn’t make things easy and ultimately, there is no direction for anyone.
Even if I just outline a period of time to go away and gather some data, it’s better to do that, than leave on ambiguity.
I find setting a timeline or a deliverable that indicates progress towards a solution, a dependable step towards a calmer discussion.
That means I have a concept of how urgent this is and the other person knows they feature on my to-do list.
Ultimately, negative feedback is something all of us as search marketers are likely to come across. Some receive it more than others and it can vary on a sliding scale of severity.
I would use these tips to contribute to what works for you, rather than a replacement.
Search is all about testing and trying, aiming to make improvements, so test a few methods of dealing with negative comments and see how it can help you not to take it personally.
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Featured Image: Paulo Bobita