Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: February/March 2009
How to Deal With Negative Feedback and Criticism in a Positive Way
By: Michael Bennett

Fifteen years later, and I still remember it like it was yesterday - my first job in radio news. I was assigned a rather routine story on a drive-by shooting incident in Los Angeles. Thankfully no one was hit by the fusillade of stray bullets flying about. I picked up the phone and interviewed the police, the victims and even snagged an interview with the family of the assailant, who actually wanted their loved one to pay for his crimes. I sat down to craft my big "45-second" story scheduled to air in less than an hour.

Frenetic is the best word I can find to describe work at a 24-hour all news radio station. Writers are called upon to crank out stories faster than a tornado ripping through the Kansas countryside. I was given 30 minutes to complete my story, an eternity in radio news. In college I had a reputation for speed and accuracy. And since I was the anchor of the college radio station's newscast, I was writing for myself.

But this assignment was different. This was my first professional gig and nothing gets on the air without passing through the eyes of an editor or producer. I passed my completed story to the boss for review and edit. Her criticism was swift and cut like a hot knife in butter. Everything about my story was wrong - "poor grammar" she hollered, "you are writing for the ear not for print you moron (yes she actually called me that,) check your sentence structure."

The entire newsroom staff listened as she spewed her critique in my direction with the tone of a mother scolding a young child for putting a hand near a hot stove. I had already spent eight years in the military and was in my early thirties. My drill instructors couldn't compete with my boss. My ego was under serious assault, but I didn't have time to sulk - that would come later. I had just five minutes to pass her censorship and get the story on the air.

She approved my rewrite without comment and two minutes later my words were read to an audience of six million people. Relieved I had completed my first assignment I quickly tackled the next story. My boss, the editor devil, burrowed into my psyche for eight straight hours. As a child I preferred my Dad spank me rather than listen to one of his tirades - that's how I felt at this moment. Making matters worse, the anchors would call from the booth screaming at the poor written quality of the stories. Unbeknown to me at the time, they weren't complaining about my stories, but that of the other writers.

I went home and had several drinks in an attempt to suppress my anger and disappointment. I had taken the boss lady's criticism personal. She had gone too far with the foul language and negative critique. This criticism lasted for weeks forcing me to contemplate quitting, but quitting is not part of my DNA.

Two months later a miracle occurred. The critique of my writing ceased. My ego, by now in serious need of repair actually started to improve. Not only was the editor devil approving my stories on first draft, she would often have me deliver my stories to the anchor desk unedited.

My boss and I had turned a corner. We reached an understanding without uttering a word. Had I improved or was she just tired of training wet-behind-the-ears college graduates? Was this her training method or was she just rude and obnoxious? Her professional manner left a lot to be desired and I never forgave her for what she called me, but I had to move on for my own sanity.

Here's another story from a meeting planner friend of mine. She has forbidden me from using her name for fear of losing a client she has had for over a decade. Her client was trying to drive up the cost on a particular convention she was charged with planning with a bunch of add-ons.

My friend was already operating under thin profit margins and after a week of work trying to accommodate her client, she couldn't figure out how to make his request fit the budget parameters. She explained the situation to her client. The client's response could be heard from New York to Los Angeles without the aid of audio enhancement.

Her first call after the shouting match was to me. I'm no Dr. Phil, but I got her to calm down. I suggested she take a few days away from this project, since the event was still several months away. She did as I suggested. Two weeks passed and her client called to discuss their dilemma as if nothing happened. She requested and received the extra monies necessary to execute her client's vision.

Again I got the first call. "How could he just act as if nothing happened," she exclaimed? No reference was ever made of the tongue-lashing she received at the hands of her client. Our stories had one thing in common, neither my boss nor her client acknowledged their abusive behavior. It's as if the behavior never happened. I can tell you that neither one of us had ever been trained to handle situations like this; I just went off my gut instinct (plus I really needed a job).

Norman Vincent Peale once said, "The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism." Often criticism is good if conveyed and channeled correctly. So what do the experts suggest? One thing is certain, how you deal with criticism and rejection says as much about you as the criticism itself.

You basically have three responses to negative criticism. You can agree with it. You can deny it. You can learn from it.

Before looking at a few suggestions on how to handle negative criticism we should look at the types of criticism. Not all criticism is the same nor is it all negative. The types of criticism below are from Tom Pryor, president of ICMS, Inc., of Arlington, TX.

Constructive criticism: these are comments that reinforce good behavior and motivate an individual to make positive change.

Destructive criticism is criticism that's unjustified and is usually accompanied by a nefarious motive.

Misleading criticism is criticism lacking of facts or based on errors. This is like inflated compliments for something that was merely ok or its converse. You should question whether the person levying the critique has the knowledge to do so.

Believe it or not, absence of criticism signals a lack of leadership or concern. The silence can lead to poor work performance. There have been studies done to suggest this absence of feedback, positive or negative, ruins a corporation's profitability.

Requested criticism, is something many of us have experienced but might not recognize. How many times have we attended a seminar and the speaker has you fill out a form requesting critique? Provided it's constructive, whether positive or negative this requested criticism presents an opportunity for growth.