Here’s Exactly What to Do When Someone Gives You Feedback You Disagree With was originally published on The Muse, a great place to research companies and careers. Click here to search for great jobs and companies near you.
Let’s face it—constructive criticism is never all that easy to hear, but at least when the feedback is insightful, you have the benefit of knowing that you’ll come out new and improved on the other side.
But, what about when you receive bad feedback that you think is straight-up false and unfounded?
For example, what if your boss tells you that you need to work on showing up on time—when you’ve never been late a day in your life? Or, that she’d like to see you take more initiative in the office—when you can already point to three recent projects you spearheaded that were well beyond your job description?
Groan. Criticism always stings a little, but being told that you’re flopping in areas where you’re confident you’re excelling is absolutely infuriating.
What can you do? That person is your superior, so should you just smile, nod, and slowly die on the inside? Or, should you adamantly insist you’re doing everything perfectly and look like an egomaniac who doesn’t respond well to suggestions?
No doubt, it’s a tricky situation. Here are four steps to take the next time your supervisor points to an area for improvement that you disagree with.
1. Ask for Examples
Your first instinct is to leap up, advocate for yourself, and tell your boss just how wrong they are. But, as with any disagreement, it’s smart to get your ducks in the row and get on the same page before you hammer your point home.
Maybe something that you’re doing is being perceived in a totally wrong way by your manager. Or, perhaps (and I know this is hard to hear), that feedback actually is justified—and you’ve just been blind to your own shortcomings.
The best way to figure this out is to ask your supervisor to point to a specific example of when you exhibited the behavior they’re outlining. That will help you get some clarity on where they’re coming from.
What if your supervisor can’t think of a single example? Well, that’s good news: You’ll have a much easier time making them realize that it’s not valid feedback. In fact, you probably won’t have to do anything at all.
What This Sounds Like
Your Boss: “This quarter, I’d like to see you work on speaking up more in meetings. I think you have the tendency to sit back and observe, rather than actively participate.”
You: “To help me better understand this feedback, can you point to a time or specific meeting when you felt like I wasn’t an engaged participant in the conversation?”
2. Say Thank You
Uhhh…wait, what? This person is pointing the finger at some sort of flaw that you don’t think you have—so why on earth would you thank them?
First of all, let’s not assume malicious intent here. Perhaps your manager really does have the wrong read on the situation or is unknowingly blowing something minor way out of proportion.
Either way, remember this: They’re (hopefully) offering you feedback because they’re invested in your growth and development and they want to see you improve. No matter how misguided, that deserves your gratitude.
After a quick “thank you,” you can also emphasize how much you respect the opinion of your supervisor. Hey, a little ego-inflating never hurt anyone.
What This Sounds Like
Your Boss: “Well, I can’t think of a specific meeting. But, I know it’s happened.”
You: “Thank you for bringing this to me. You know how much I value your feedback and insights on how I can be more effective in this role.”
3. Respectfully Disagree
Now’s the part you’ve been waiting for—where you get to stick up for yourself and assert that you think that feedback is out of line.
Disagreeing with your boss is always nerve-wracking, but especially when you run the risk of looking like someone who’s totally unreceptive to constructive criticism.
The key here is to provide proof that backs your stance up. Be prepared with at least one concrete example that contrasts your manager’s point, so that you can make sure your own retort is grounded in reality.
What This Sounds Like
You: “But, respectfully, I disagree with you. While I do see a lot of value in listening during meetings, I make a conscious effort to chime in as frequently as everybody else at the table. Even in this Tuesday’s team meeting, I was the one who spoke up when Kimberly was confused about how we track website traffic.”
4. Ask Questions
What happens next will depend on how your supervisor responds to your direct disagreement. However, it never hurts to ask a follow-up question or two.
Doing so accomplishes a couple of things. First, it makes you look a little less huffy and defiant—since it demonstrates that you’re willing to engage in a conversation about that perceived behavior.
And, secondly, it steers the conversation back to your boss for his opinion and further feedback, which proves that you’re still open to hearing how you can improve.
What This Sounsd Like
You: “Perhaps this means my contributions aren’t as impactful or as memorable as they could be. Is there something different you think I could be doing in terms of how I present my ideas in meetings?”
Receiving constructive criticism is never all that fun. But, when it’s feedback that you think is flat-out wrong? Well, that’s usually enough to send smoke spewing out of your ears.
Fortunately, when you know you’re in the right, you don’t necessarily have to take that criticism at face value. Put these four steps to work, and you’ll disagree in a way that’s a little more respectful and a little less rebellious.