How to Respond to Negative Feedback: A Professional Approach

8 min read

No matter what your job title is, you’re more than likely to receive some form of negative feedback.

Whether a customer complaint or a note from a supervisor, all forms of feedback can be helpful to you. They allow you to take a closer look at your performance and take the steps to improve for the future. 

This article will give you the tools necessary to respond to negative feedback calmly and professionally. We’ll also provide examples of how you can respond in given situations so when the time comes, you’re ready to take it in your stride.

What is Negative Feedback?

If you receive negative feedback during your time at work, your manager is likely pointing out areas where you may need to improve. While it can feel personal at the time, negative feedback is an essential part of growing and developing as a professional. 

In a company with a healthy culture, feedback shouldn’t be demotivating – instead, it’s there to help employees learn and grow in their roles. You’ll typically be asked to address behaviors, actions, or outcomes that don’t align with the standards or goals of your employer, and should receive constructive suggestions on how you can improve for the future. Some employers may even put an action plan in place and hold monthly meetings to track your progress. 

For instance, let’s say you work in sales. During your training, you’re not quite hitting your targets, so your manager listens in on some calls. They call a one-on-one meeting with you and talk about how you’re too passive and let potential customers lead the conversation, rather than steering them towards a purchase. They provide some tips and arrange for you to shadow a more experienced salesperson.

When delivered thoughtfully and constructively, regularly receiving feedback, whether positive or negative, can contribute to a culture of continuous learning within an organization. Ultimately, this will benefit both individual employees and the company as a whole.

Why is it Essential to Respond to Negative Feedback Professionally?

Responding to negative feedback in a professional manner is incredibly important for maintaining a positive reputation, building trust with customers, and demonstrating a commitment to continuous improvement. 

When handled with professionalism, it presents an opportunity to address concerns and find resolutions. For customer feedback, this approach showcases the value you place on customer input and your willingness to take responsibility for any issues that may arise.

Moreover, a professional response can encourage honest feedback in the future, enabling you to identify and resolve problems early on. In today’s digital age, where social media and online reviews hold significant influence, handling negative feedback professionally becomes vital in mitigating the impact of unfavorable comments and portraying your business positively to potential customers. It’s a vital part of customer retention strategies.

When it comes to employer/employee feedback, it fosters a more positive internal culture by promoting accountability and eagerness for learning and growth. All in all, responding professionally to negative feedback is an essential aspect of both effective customer service and successful business management.

How to Respond to Negative Feedback From Your Manager

So, you’ve been called into a meeting and are facing below-average feedback from your higher-ups. While this can be a daunting experience, you can approach the situation with a plan in mind to help you deal with this challenging situation. 

Let’s take a look at the best ways to respond to poor feedback from your manager or boss.

Listen to Feedback Carefully

It’s human nature to defend ourselves when we hear negative claims about our performance. However, it’s essential to take a step back and listen to the feedback you receive and assess the validity of the claims. 

You may feel like the negative feedback was delivered harshly or unfairly, but it may contain elements of truth. You’ll only find out if you listen to the claims put forward. Negative feedback you may receive includes:

Communication Challenges – Feedback regarding communication issues may consist of remarks about unclear email messages, not being responsive to emails or phone calls, or lacking practical interpersonal skills.

Collaboration and Teamwork – There is a possibility of receiving negative feedback about your ability to work effectively with others. This could include not being seen as a team player, withholding information, or experiencing conflicts with colleagues.

Effective Time Management – Feedback related to time management can involve criticism for consistently being late, not prioritizing tasks efficiently, or failing to meet productivity goals.

Work Quality – You might receive feedback suggesting that your work lacks attention to detail, accuracy or consistency. This can lead to errors or subpar results.

Customer Service Ability –  If you are in a customer-facing role like a call center, feedback may focus on providing inadequate customer service, being unhelpful when assisting customers or not meeting their needs effectively. This is typically done when a company is optimizing their workforce (what is workforce optimization?) and is providing feedback to weaker agents.

Attendance and Punctuality – Consistently arriving late, taking excessive sick leave, or having numerous unexplained absences may result in negative feedback.

Assess Feedback

You might feel as though negative feedback is personal criticism, but often, your manager will offer constructive pointers that only relate to your work performance. It’s essential to assess the feedback presented to you and determine how true the claims feel. 

Typically, your manager will only call a performance meeting if they’re aware of multiple instances of poor performance. If you’re unsure of why they’re giving you negative feedback, you can ask questions after the assessment is over.


Your response shouldn’t come across as defensive or defiant. Instead, propose solutions that rectify the highlighted performance issue and ask for suggestions on how you can improve in the future. Showcase your openness to learn from the review. 

Here’s an example of how you could propose a solution: 

“In the future, I will work towards improving my time management skills by actively reducing workplace distractions. Do you have any tips on how I can improve?”

Responding professionally should be the focus of your response. Even if you’re on good terms with your manager, it’s essential to keep a level-head and watch your tone of voice.

Create an Action Plan

When you receive negative feedback about your work performance, it’s important to take a proactive and constructive approach by creating an action plan. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do that:

1. Reflect on the Feedback – Take some time to review the feedback you received carefully. Make sure you fully understand the specific concerns or areas where improvement is needed.

2. Accept Responsibility – Acknowledge that there is room for improvement in your performance and take full responsibility for addressing the issues raised. Having this mindset is crucial for making positive changes.

3. Set Clear Goals – Define clear and specific goals for improvement. Your goals should be measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART goals). For example, if the feedback is about meeting project deadlines, a SMART goal could be; “Reduce missed project deadlines by 20% within the next three months.”

4. Identify Actionable Steps – Break down your goals into actionable steps or tasks. Consider what actions you need to take in order to achieve your goals. These steps should be practical and something within your control—you shouldn’t be asking your manager to work on a call center productivity formula to reduce your workload, for instance!

By following these guidelines and considering these steps when creating an action plan after receiving negative feedback on your work performance, you can address the issues raised in a proactive manner while working towards improvement.

How to Respond to Negative Customer Feedback

Whether you’re a business owner or a customer representative, negative customer feedback is likely to be part of your day-to-day job role. Handling it quickly and professionally is crucial to keeping your customers happy. Whether gathered via a customer survey or sent as a complaint or a review, the techniques are similar. Let’s take a look at how you can rectify customer issues:

Address the Customer Personally

Start by addressing the customer using their name, if possible. This personal touch shows that you genuinely care about their concern and are not giving a generic response. Make sure, however, that you use their preferred method of address – if someone signs off their emails as ‘Mr. Smith’, you shouldn’t be responding with ‘Dear John’.


Begin your response with a sincere apology. Even if the issue wasn’t directly your fault, express regret that the customer had a negative experience. This demonstrates empathy and acknowledges their feelings

Sympathize with the Problem

Show empathy by understanding the customer’s frustration or disappointment. Let them know that you comprehend their viewpoint and value their feedback.

For instance, “I understand how frustrating it must have been and I appreciate you taking the time to bring this matter to our attention.”

Outline How You’re Solving the Issue

After acknowledging the problem, explain the steps you are taking to resolve it. Provide specific details about what actions you or your team will take to address the issue promptly and prevent its recurrence in the future.

For example, “We take this matter seriously, and our team is currently investigating the root cause of the problem. We are fully committed to resolving it as quickly as possible.”

Stick to Your Brand Voice

This should go without saying, but as well as following these particular tactics, make sure you follow your brand’s particular voice. This is particularly important if the feedback has passed through multiple channels before reaching you. Sticking to basic formalities, such as ending an email professionally, is also important for maintaining a good image.

Examples of how to Respond to Negative Feedback Professionally

Here are six examples of how professionals should respond to their managers giving them negative feedback professionally during a performance review:

1. Call Center Agent (Long Call Times)

Manager: “I’ve noticed that your call durations have consistently exceeded our target, which is affecting our team’s productivity.”

Your Response: “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I appreciate your concern and am committed to improving my efficiency.

To achieve this, I will concentrate on actively listening to customers and providing practical solutions promptly.  Furthermore, I will seek guidance from experienced colleagues to acquire techniques for resolving issues more efficiently – is there anyone you know who might be available to help with that?”

2. Marketing Professional (Weak SEO Research)

Manager: “Your recent SEO research had some inaccuracies and weaknesses, which can impact the effectiveness of our marketing campaigns.”

Response: “I appreciate your feedback regarding my SEO research. I’m sorry for any inaccuracies or weaknesses you found. To address this, I will carefully review and evaluate the SEO value of content and will look into new, more reliable data sources. Furthermore, I will actively collaborate with our team to ensure that everyone is using the most up-to-date and accurate information.”

3. App Developer (Slow App)

Manager: “We’ve been receiving feedback from users about the app’s slow performance, and it’s negatively impacting their experience. It’s crucial that we tackle this problem as a matter of urgency.”

Response: “I appreciate you bringing up the issue regarding our app’s performance. I fully understand how important it is to provide users with a seamless experience. I will make it a priority to investigate the underlying causes for the slowdown and collaborate closely with our development team to improve our app hosting capabilities.”

4. Customer Complaint (Product Not Received)

Customer; “I made an online purchase two weeks ago, but I haven’t received the product yet. It’s quite frustrating and disappointing.”

Response: “I’m truly sorry to hear that you haven’t received your order yet. I completely understand how frustrating it can be and I apologize for any inconvenience caused. Let me look into this matter immediately to check the status of your shipment. Could you please provide me with your order number? I’ll do my best to resolve this issue promptly for you.”

5. Client Complaint (B2B Business Services)

Client: “We have been facing significant problems with your B2B services. The quality has been inconsistent and it’s negatively impacting our operations.”

Response: “I want to sincerely apologize for the difficulties you’ve been experiencing with our services. We highly value your business, and we understand the impact these issues can have on your operations. To address this matter, I will immediately escalate your concerns to our service team, who will conduct a comprehensive review of your account in order to identify the root causes behind these inconsistencies. We are fully committed to resolving these issues and ensuring that you receive the top-notch service that you expect from us.”

Respond to Negative Feedback Professionally with our Strategies

Whether you’re waiting for your performance review or you’ve just received negative feedback, ensuring you have a professional response strategy in place provides you with all the tools needed to impress your superiors. 

A negative response to your hard work is something we’ll all face – and if you’re in a customer-facing role, you’ll likely face negative feedback from customers semi-regularly. Remember to always maintain a professional tone when receiving negative management or customer feedback.

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