Women Are More Likely to Take Negative Feedback to Heart. Here's How to Cope.

woman frustrated at work

Adobe Stock / Fairygodboss Staff

Profile Picture
April 23, 2024 at 5:17PM UTC

Maybe your coworker mentioned they didn’t love something you did on a project. Maybe your boss is asking you to try a new technique (because the old one really isn’t working). Maybe the CEO saw what you were doing and immediately stopped you in your tracks.

Negative feedback comes in various shapes and forms, and sounds different depending on who you’re asking — and how they’re telling you. Yet on the whole, women are likely to take any kind of feedback to heart, more so than their male counterparts.

A study in the early 1990s identified this trend by concluding that women are more likely to point to feedback they’re received before when self-reflecting. If a company was doing self-assessments, women would be more likely to write that they need to improve on something their boss has given them feedback on. Men, on the other hand, were less responsive to the feedback they got — meaning they were less likely to internalize it and put weight on their performance. 

Women are not only more likely to take feedback more seriously but also take it to heart. They’re more likely to experience both “lowered self-esteem and negative affect” than their male counterparts after receiving any kind of negative feedback. 

Feeling upset, disappointed or even lost after negative feedback isn’t your fault — and you’re not alone. If you’re likely to take negative feedback to heart, here’s how to cope.

1. Take time to process your emotions.

Coping with negative feedback doesn’t mean you have to minimize your emotions. In fact, it’s healthier to feel these negative feelings instead of immediately trying to push them away. Take even five minutes — maybe in your room if you’re working from home, or in the office bathroom or a walk around the block — to truly feel your feelings. Notice where in your body you’re feeling stressed or upset and process how you’re talking to yourself. What are your thoughts telling you? 

It may sound silly, but shifting attention to the sadness (or whatever you’re feeling!) can help you fully process your reaction. It’s valid to feel upset after someone criticizes you, even if they’re trying to improve your work. If you feel your feelings wholeheartedly, you can move on healthily instead of letting them fester.

2. Ask for specific next steps.

Women can’t catch a break — not only do they take negative feedback to heart, but they’re more likely to get more vague feedback in the first place. Once you’ve felt your feelings, shift into action mode. How can you turn this feedback into an emotional, upsetting string of words into something that can help your team and career? 

First, if you were given any action items, turn them into specific next steps. How can you make progress on this feedback today? In a week? In six months? If you can’t answer these questions, you may not have been given specific enough feedback! Follow up with the person who gave this feedback and ask them about the actionable aspects of their comments. Knowing how you can act will give you the confidence boost to own this feedback and make successful, worthwhile progress.

3. Open yourself up to feedback.

Getting feedback can be stressful, upsetting, disappointing — and even scary. But the more you open yourself up to opportunities for feedback, the more you’ll get used to receiving it. If your boss or coworkers don’t already give you regular feedback, start asking for it, even casually. Slack them to see what they think of something you’re working on or an idea you have. Ask them not only for their gut reaction, but also what you think you could improve on. This will direct them to give you actionable feedback that can actually empower you to grow and succeed.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for responding to feedback? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

This article reflects the views of the author and not those of Fairygodboss.

Why women love us:

  • Daily articles on career topics
  • Jobs at companies dedicated to hiring more women
  • Advice and support from an authentic community
  • Events that help you level up in your career
  • Free membership, always