Reacting to Negative Feedback on Our Projects

Posted by Brad Egeland

This basically will amount to a two-part series.  I’d like to look at how we do or should or could react to the feedback we get on the projects we manage.  We don’t always get feedback – and that can be frustrating.  And sometimes we only get the negative feedback and that can be even more frustrating…but helpful.  PMs are notorious for getting few accolades but when it comes to pointing out the bad, there can often be a long line.

For this first part of the feedback series, I’d like to look at how we might or should react to negative feedback, in my opinion.  Let’s examine closer…

When receiving and reacting to negative feedback:

Don’t lie. Reputation and integrity is everything for the project manager.  Never, ever lie as a project manager.  If you’re caught in a lie it can ruin your reputation and will likely end the current project you’re working on – at least as far as you’re concerned anyway.  You must remain above reproach.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver on. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it.  You’ll have to come clean later so just be honest now if you know it’s not possible.  Never set unreasonable expectations for the client that you can’t deliver on.

Ask for clarification on anything you don’t understand. It isn’t at all productive to get mad, clam up, or completely discount what is being said.  If someone has something negative to say, you should want to know it and hear it – whether you think it’s true or not.  If you hear something negative about your performance or decision or action, etc., try to go to the source and get more information.  You want to understand their concern.  Right or wrong, you don’t want it to end there.  You might learn from it if they are correct, and you might be able to turn around a perception if there was some miscommunication that led to the negative feedback.

Don’t bluff – admit if you don’t know the answer. If you were wrong – own it.  Admit any wrongdoing.  Admit your shortcomings.  Admit ignorance.  It’s ok to say, “I don’t know.”  You will become more respected for it.  It shows an understanding and a willingness to learn.

Don’t react emotionally. Always, always, always remain in control of your emotions.  Take a deep breath.  Count to 10 if you have to.  But remain in control.  If you lose it responding to critical feedback you will lose the customer forever.  Be professional, take some time, and formulate a professional-sounding response.  It’s easier if you’re getting and receiving this feedback via email because you can take time to formulate a response.  Being caught off guard face to face with negative feedback can cause you to respond quickly and emotionally.  Don’t do it.  And don’t try to reverse the blame in your comeback.  Accept what is said and either respond with a positive and possibly corrective response or let them know you’ll respond soon.

Don’t blame pass the blame. Always accept the blame.  If it was definitely your fault, that’s a no-brainer.  But if it pertains to something you were leading and not directly attributable to you, it’s still best to accept responsibility.  Go down with the ship – you’ll gain lots of respect for it.

If perceptions are inaccurate, correct them with tact. If you receive feedback that is inaccurate, be tactful in how you respond.  Never try to make the client feel ignorant – it will never serve you well to make the client look bad.

Stress that you will follow-up quickly. Always respond to negative feedback positively.  State that you’re going to follow up on the client’s concern and give them a date when they should expect a response from you.

In the next installment, we’ll look at how best to receive positive feedback on our projects and our project management efforts.

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