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The gift of negative feedback at work

A negative performance review or a reprimand from your boss = THE WORST. Especially for those of us who run more on the sensitive side.

I once tendered my letter of resignation the day after a negative performance review, which if you've ever gotten one, you at least wanted to as well. So, what can we do short of quitting or holding resentment against our boss?

First, let's discuss the immediate response. I don't recommend resigning like I did. I only share that story here because it is typically what we feel is just and right in the moment we receive that stinging feedback. That company did talk me back in, by the way, from my rash behavior.

When we first receive the feedback from a boss, I recommend 3 things: 1. Breathe 2. Drink water 3. Talk to a compassionate listener

These steps help ground us back into reality, process difficult emotions in a safe space, and get back to our wisdom. They also ensure we don't engage in a reaction we'll later regret that ruins our relationship with our boss or the company. A compassionate listener here is best to be someone outside of the company who cares about us and can listen with compassion, no judgment, and won't rush in to complain with us or try to solve the problem for us. He or she simply holds space that our wisdom will come out after venting.

Pro Move: Often after sharing how bad I feel with a compassionate listener, I offer a prayer for the results I'd ultimately like to achieve in the situation and around the relationship. Prayer is a very helpful technique so that I, as the one in pain, can transform and see the situation differently. (See below for a prayer you can offer.)

Next, after getting out the emotional reaction, we can look with wisdom at the feedback from our boss. While the feedback does sting, typically a boss's feedback is a reality check. Their negative feedback comes because they see a symptom of some bigger problem in us. They see our attitude, lack of cooperation, showing up late, or lower quality work. The symptom is usually correct - we are underperforming in some way below even our own standards.

The GIFT for us - for those of us who want to love our work - is that the feedback helps us look into ourselves and face whatever that symptom points us to as the underlying problem. What matters is WHY are we coming in late or showing attitude. And, our boss's feedback shows us that the issue we've been trying to keep under wraps is actually something we need to deal with to be successful in our work in the long term.

Here are some common issues the negative feedback may reveal about what is really happening with us:

  • we feel like a hampster on a wheel of constant output with no recharge

  • we spend most of our time on projects we dislike and less in growing our genius

  • we lack tools to address difficult situations or relationships

  • we no longer feel aligned with the company's values or direction

  • we have a personal issue that is emotionally exhausting us

None of these are easy issues to resolve immediately. But the first step and gift is recognizing the problem. From here, we can begin a personal journey to address the feedback. And with our boss, we can set up a timeframe in which to explore and improve on the problem area. And this shows our boss our commitment to professional growth and being a better person at work, which is typically what he or she wanted for us in the first place.

Spiritual Practice: Prayer to reveal the gift of feedback As I mentioned, when I am facing difficult emotions, I often offer a prayer in the presence of a compassionate listener. This can be live in person, or in our modern world, by text. Sharing our prayers with others for witness magnifies their power. One of the greatest powers of prayers is to help us see a situation differently, and in the case of negative feedback at work, that is very helpful. Here's a sample prayer for this situation:

Dear God, I have received negative feedback at work and it stings so badly. I feel angry, sad, and disappointed. I work hard and give so much of my effort, and so I feel unappreciated and misunderstood and this makes me want to run away or quit. I wish to transform this pain. I come to you willing to see this another way. Please help me see the gift, the lesson, and what is the underlying problem. Please also help raise this relationship with my boss to its highest divine order. Guide me to transform this experience so that I can do even more good in the world through powerful lessons and improvements. Please help me to do this wholeheartedly in your name. Thank you. Amen.

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