How to handle negative feedback we don’t want to hear

Keep this one thing in mind when you’re given negative feedback in the workplace.

What happens when someone tells you something you don’t want to hear?

Hearing something negative about yourself is a hard thing to swallow. Especially when you disagree with it.

I’ll never forget when this happened to me most vividly about four years ago. I sat down to get coffee with a mentor of mine.

To my surprise, she expressed how she was disappointed in my lack of follow-through with two people she had introduced me to. Then she said this:

“Because of that, Claire, you come across as fake.”


I felt my stomach flip. I felt my temperature rise. I knew I had followed up with them. And I knew I wasn’t a fake person. Should I say that? Should I defend myself?

Instead, as silly as it sounds, I breathed in. Then I counted, 1–2–3. And then I breathed out.

I realized that regardless of what I believed to be the truth, what she told me was true to her. And that’s what mattered.

There is always a reason that someone chooses to believe something is true. It’s not as though she (or her contacts) was crazy or delusional. There had to be a reason.

After all, it could be pointing to a larger issue…

Maybe she was right?

Maybe this was a sign that I was taking on too many meetings. Maybe I was brushing people off. Maybe I was caught up in the “go go go, gotta keep moving,” and that I wasn’t investing the time and thoughtful consideration with each person I spoke with.

Maybe I was coming across as fake.

Even though I know I’d followed up with her contacts, that wasn’t the point. The point was that I had a real opportunity to learn, change, and improve. It’s not about what’s true to me. It’s about what’s true to her.

So instead of trying to change her mind — instead of trying to change what was true to her — I decided to try to change my own behavior. I didn’t want to spend energy getting worked up, being defensive. I wanted to use that same energy to become better.

I told her that I was sorry. Really sorry. That I thought I had followed-up. But that it didn’t matter either way. I told her that her feedback caused me to reflect on how I was treating and handling each interaction I’ve had. I was determined to do things differently moving forward.

We’ve touched base since then, and it’s been rewarding to reflect on how much I’ve improved, even just a few weeks after that conversation happened. I immediately started investing more energy and thoughtfulness into every meeting I scheduled, every conversation I had. I meticulously tripled-check my follow-through on things I’ve promised to others. Years later, to this day, her words stick with me.

Looking back, I’m grateful I fought my urge to rebut her feedback in that moment. If I hadn’t, there’s no way I would’ve changed my actions for the better as quickly as I did.

Keep this in mind the next time someone gives you feedback you disagree with: It doesn’t matter if what they’re saying true to you — what matters is that it’s true to them.

The sooner you recognize that, the sooner you’ll benefit from it.

Watch our talks on leadership, creating a positive company culture, and how we run Know Your…

Lately, I’ve been out on the road speaking quite a bit. From Stockholm to Austin to Denver to Boston, I’ve been honored to share our techniques around how you can avoid being the last to know in your company. And, it’s been fun to pull back the curtain on how we run Know Your Company as a business.

I collected some of the videos at Know Your Company Talks, and shared a few below as well. Hope you find ’em useful!

How we define our company mission, vision, and values

What I wrote back in 2013 to remind myself of what matters as we develop Know Your Company’s (now Know Your Team) own organizational culture.

Yesterday was one of those days when I doubted myself a little bit more than usual. It’s happened before, and it’ll happen many more times again, I’m sure.

When I started to feel that doubt creep up, I decided to dig up a document I wrote for myself a few months ago.

Back in early December 2013, when I was gearing up to officially take over Know Your Company, I had done a lot of thinking. I thought about why I wanted to run Know Your Company. What kind of company did I want to ultimately build? What beliefs did I want to stay true to, regardless of what would happen in the future?

So the week before I signed the papers for the deal, I sat down and wrote down the answers to those questions. I wanted to remind myself what not to forget as I set out to run Know Your Company.

Here’s what I wrote (side note: I’m a visual person, so I wrote it out as slides)…

Nothing earth-shattering. But it felt good to write. And it felt really good to refer back to yesterday, to clear my head and set my sights straight on what matters.

It’s amazing how simply writing down what you believe in the most affirms why you’re doing it in the first place. Even if no one sees it (I wasn’t planning on sharing this document) — the reminder is just for you.

Sometimes a reminder is all we need.