Not every prospect becomes a client, not every buyer makes it to the finish line; not every “sure thing” deal comes to pass. Rather than rolling yourself into a ball, turning off the lights, making excuses or becoming defensive and lashing out, know that handling and responding to negative criticism and feedback is part of the job.

Some consider those elements as necessary evils; some consider those same elements as opportunities for potential growth and success. As international author Alexander Kjerulf says, “It would be far worse for people to notice your doing bad work and not say a thing.”

How to handle these “negative” elements as opportunities when working with disgruntled, disappointed, dissatisfied clients who are delivering negative feedback to your door, desk, inbox, or voicemail?  Ask them questions…the right kinds of questions…about what happened or what went wrong so you can learn, improve and not make those specific mistakes again.

Here are examples of the right kinds of questions you can ask clients or prospects in hopes they will answer you with constructive criticism that can illuminate and move you forward.

  1.  Make your questions as specific as possible; specific about your performance, your interactions, rather than open ended “yes and no” questions.
  2. Ask clarifying questions. Ask questions that ensure you understand the specific content of what they’re telling you; questions that will solicit their suggestions so you can improve or correct what you did or didn’t provide them.  Pay particular attention to your own body language and tone of voice so they don’t interpret your question as being defensive or critical of them.
  3. Listen to their answers so you’re able to understand what they are saying.  Don’t interrupt, don’t jump up to respond or make excuses, and don’t defend yourself.
  4. Consider who you’re asking. Is this person a friend, a person who has something to gain  over you, a person who likes having power over you, a person you respect or admire?  Remember that some feedback or criticism is not worth your time and attention if the person has ulterior motives.
  5. Deconstruct their feedback so you have a clear picture of what they’re saying, of the isolated incident they’re describing, the specific thing they’re wanting you to change. Even if you don’t like what they’re saying, listen to it and figure it out.
  6. Evaluate their feedback as the last step in this question/answer process.  Do you agree with what they’re telling you, should you accept what they’re telling you, etc.?

Most people have good intentions and want you to do well.  Their negative feedback is about your work, not you, so let the critical messenger know that you’re open to change and capable of growth. And then be sure to not make those same mistakes again!