Friday, March 25, 2016

Receiving Feedback Without Tears

Don't let feedback turn into argument
Photo by Kurt Bauschardt/Creative Commons
No one likes to get feedback, unless it's a compliment, like "Great job!"  "You're awesome!"  Truthfully, though, how often does that happen in the business world.  If you're an entrepreneur, the most common feedback you get from clients is negative.  How do you receive that negative feedback?  Do you fire off an angry response?  Do you fire the client because "there's no pleasing them?"  How you deal with negative feedback at work is the same way you deal with it in your personal life, so it's important to make sure you're doing it in a way that can turn the situation positive, instead of escalating it into an angry confrontation, a lost client or family disputes.

Giving feedback is tough, because most often, feedback is motivated by emotion.  If you're angry or frustrated, you're more likely to give negative feedback than someone who is satisfied; anyone who makes a positive comment on you or your business have to be elated by their experience.  That's why, when looking at negative client feedback online or in person, is so important.

When receiving feedback, it's important to acknowledge the emotion that goes along with it.  If your client is frustrated with you, rather than getting defensive and giving "back as good as you got," really listen to what's being said.  It's not a personal attack on you; it's an attack on the situation.  While you're listening, remove the emotion from the complaint - both yours and that of your client - and find what the core issue is.  Is the client frustrated because of a missed deadline?  Did you communicate effectively that the deadline was going to be missed or did you just hope they'd forget about it?  Did you communicate at all with the client?  If they called before they got angry, did you avoid that phone call or email?

Rather than thinking of an answer while the client is giving you this angry feedback, take time to not only listen but then repeat back what their main complaint is, minus the emotional words.  Say something like, "I'm sorry you're upset [because no one likes an angry customer].  Let me see if I understand what you're saying.  You're upset because [I missed the deadline/I didn't communicate well/the product isn't what you expected/etc].  Is that right?"  This will almost automatically calm the other person down and gives them the feeling you're really listening.  If you just fire off a response, chances are you haven't given yourself time to disconnect from the emotion and you haven't really listened to what was being said.

Next, get to the bottom line.  What's the REAL problem?  Elaine's client started out saying, "This is crap.  You missed the whole point of what I wanted."  She listened, repeated what the client said and then asked the client to specify exactly what was wrong with what was submitted.  Turns out, there was one sentence near the beginning that didn't exactly reflect the client's information; it wasn't the entire job, just that sentence because the client stopped when he got to that one sentence.  She then moved on, fixed that sentence and they went over the rest of the information, finding it was exactly what the client wanted.  The client went away happy because he had been heard and Elaine was able to keep that client for quite a while - not because she groveled or panicked when the complaint was made, but because she listened, got down to the core issue and then fixed it with the client on hand.

If the situation is such that you don't feel you can adequately listen to the negative feedback without getting upset, it's ok to say to your client, "I'm sorry you're upset.  I'd like to deal with the issue quickly but will need just about ______ minutes to gather information here before we can figure out between us how to make it right."  Then, walk away, go into a quiet place and just breathe for a few minutes.  By removing yourself from the anger of the client, you're allowing yourself to calm down and think clearly; no one thinks clearly when they're angry and someone in this conversation has to be thinking clearly.

There's no need for tears, anger and lost relationships, no matter how badly things have gone.  By actively listening and working with the client to find a solution, you'll be able to receive negative feedback without reaching the point where you're ready to chuck the whole thing.