How to Avoid Negative Feedback Zapping Your Confidence

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“Go on, hit me with it. I eat feedback for breakfast” my client was desperate to know what my FEEDBACK was about his video clip of his latest ‘elevator pitch’.

“Go on, what am I doing wrong?”  (talk about a masochist)

My reply…

“Matthew, it’s not what you’re doing wrong, the question is, what are you doing right?”

We were on a top floor of a big tall shiny building in London’s city and he stood suited and booted looking dapper in front of my video camera.  He was already brilliant at pitching, however there was room for improvement. But, if I’d told him what he was doing wrong, I wouldn’t have got the results I needed.  This would have been plain mean…

 “Look, you’re way too cocky, you’re like a car salesman on acid and the audience are going to hate you”

Like it or not I HATE negative feedback, so I tend not to deal it out.  Or as a recent coach explained to me it’s ‘growth’ feedback or ‘constructive criticism’, call it what you want. 

Funnily enough, I’ve noticed male clients are more likely to ask specifically, 

“What am I doing wrong….give me the negatives”

However, I know feedback needs to be handled with the utmost care, so I’ve learnt to manage it in a way that motivates rather than destroys!  In a moment I’ll share my tips on handling both the giving and receiving of ‘growth’ feedback.  

First though I’ve noticed most people; male, female, CEOs or Heads of HR alike can suffer long term confidence damage if given potentially hurtful feedback, even if they ask for it.

 They’ve shared their many stories with me and it got me thinking about the way I handle feedback myself, so I feel compelled to share this with you because it can really help you move forward with your confidence in tact!

Recently I was given access to the (scary) feedback forms after I spoke at a conference. I took a deep breath and read through them ALL.  99% of the comments were glowing, ‘Brilliant….loved it….great tips” etc. 

However, 1% of the audience wrote (that’s 1 person in this case) ...

“Good (not excellent) she spent too long talking about herself at the beginning” – OUCH! That hurt.  (But but but…I’m now on the defensive…I disagree, I actively don’t do that, what a ****** *****)

You’re thinking, 

“OK, that was one person, who cares, ignore them!”

 Yes, I agree.  And I also know that according to Prof Steve Peters, author of ‘The Chimp Paradox’ our brains are wired to focus on threat – in fact out inner chimp brain is 6 times stronger than our human brain, so the chimp leaps onto the nasty negative feedback so it gets an unfair top billing, alarm bells, threat signals and all!

I’ve met too many people, many senior clients who have had their confidence zapped to smithereens by so called ‘feedback’.  I’ve heard many forms of it…

“I’ve been told I lack impact in meetings, I’m a shrinking violet”

“They ripped me to shreds about my town hall, even though I asked for honest criticism, and it knocked my confidence”

(in this case he was very senior and hugely confident, so they gave it to him with both barrels!

“They told me I’m not confident enough in pitches”

“I waffle too much in meetings”

I could go on.  I have heard it all.  

You do need to face feedback throughout your career, you need to give it and receive it regularly.  You know this…you improve if you face failures and negatives, otherwise you’ll stop yourself from ‘growing’.

 So my question today is…

How do you give and take ‘constructive’ feedback without hurting yourself and others?

Here are my top communication tips that have been tried and tested over my 27 years as a senior producer at the BBC and as a personal impact expert in global organisations and businesses across the world…. 

1 - How to Receive Negative Feedback in the Moment…Aarhhh! Don’t you hate that?  

If you have a matter of seconds to react, what do you do?  

When someone says “It was sh*t” in so many words, ouch, that hurts.  It’s like a dagger in your heart.

You know you’re meant to be big and mature about it, take it on the chin, learn and move on, yet it eats away at you and you might secretly brood about it for days.  Maybe it seeps into your inner confidence and feeds your paranoia and imposter syndrome (both men and women have described these feelings to me)

One immediate strategy I’ve tried and tested, if you catch yourself in time is…

“Table it”

This is a practical solution. 

Imagine your negative feedback literally lands on the table in front of you.

Imagine it’s a ‘thing’ not a personal dig at you.  

Take a step back (in your head) and have a look at this feedback.  This could take 3 seconds.  Yes, it’s quick.

Imagine your job is to analyse the feedback and look at it from different angles and improve it.

The practical Esther-Tip here is to give yourself TIME to answer…

So, here’s what you’re going to try…

  • Pause

  • Breathe (through the nose remember) for 3-4 seconds

  • Smile

  • Buy more time…by saying something like…

 “I can see why people might think that”


“Good point, give me a moment to understand what that means”

Because you are completely in control you are now able to MOVE ON and focus on what you’re going to do in future with warmth and a smile.  This way you’re not defensive, chippy or negative.

You may NOW be equipped to answer…

“Next time I’ll think more about….”


“Aha, thank you for the feedback, I’ll definitely…..going forward”

In terms of how you feel inside, it’s a case of getting rid of the horrible hurt feelings and focus on the future.  

2 - How to Dish Out Negative Feedback…

It’s simple. And you know this.  Don’t be negative!  

Be positive about what they are GOING to do next.

I’ve developed a way of skipping to the future when it comes to feedback.  A very good friend of mine, exec coach, mentor and speaker, May Busch calls it “feed forward”.  It’s all about what you will do next and what tools you need going forward, rather than dragup the past, the criticism and the bad stuff all the time.

Criticising someone is unlikely to get you the results you need, on any level.  (Even though you might be seething at their behaviour or attitude)

That’s why I say to my clients 

“What are you doing right?”, rather than 

“What are you doing wrong?”

When it comes to something as revealing as watching yourself back on video the last thing you need to hear is someone judge you.  How exposing is that? It’s the worst!  That’s why when I video people I always look for the good first.

So please do share your feedback strategies and stories of when you’ve had to give and take ‘constructive criticism’.  I’d love to hear from you.  And if you want my feedback on your communication style or your ability to speak like a leader get in touch pronto.  


Big news. My brand new book is out now. If you hate public speaking or you know someone who does, you’ll love this. Click here for the colour edition!

It even sold out on Amazon.

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