5 Reasons Negative Feedback Is More Common

by Outcry May 26, 2019

The only way to grow is by receiving feedback. We all know this.

But does feedback always have to be so… negative?

People are obsessed with negativity, but there are at least five good reasons for that.

The sooner you understand why people tend to respond negatively in the first place, the sooner you’ll be on the path toward improving yourself, your product, or your business.

1. Negativity Bias Causes Us to Focus on the Negatives

Have you ever had a day that started off amazing, with everything going in your favor, until that one thing had to go and ruin your entire day?

If you allowed one bad thing to ruin an entire day of good fortune, then you’ve become a victim of your own negativity bias.

That’s the name for our preference to blow negative experiences out of proportion and to minimize the impact of the positive experiences. It’s the same reason we’ll ruthlessly uninstall an app just for having an annoying technical issue.

negative feedback cartoon

Source: The Awkward Yeti

Likewise, when you ask for feedback from your users, they’ll subconsciously recruit their negativity bias. Even if their experience with your product was exceedingly positive, they’ll likely take those aspects for granted in favor of something that stuck out as a negative.

If you’re receiving an overwhelming amount of suggestions based on negative feedback, don’t assume that their entire experience was negative—they might just be highlighting the one issue they had.

2. Negative Feedback is Better for Professionals

We have two types of feedback: positive and negative.

Likewise, we have two types of people in business: novices and professionals.

Heidi Grant Halvorson’s research found that novices preferred positive feedback—it’s what helps them push through uncertainty and new challenges.

On the other hand, professionals actively sought out negative feedback. Positive feedback was only telling them what they already knew.

Source: Harvard Business Review

Most people understand this intuitively. Whether your goal is as ambitious as scaling your business, or if it’s simply to master a video game, you understand that recognizing your flaws and overcoming them is the key to growth.

Therefore, when people see your professional product, they’ll respond in part by assuming you want to be treated like a professional.

3. Anonymity Enables Unfiltered Feedback

Have you ever been on the feedback-end of a customer survey? If you took the time to fill out a response, you must have felt a little bit of relief knowing that there would be no name or face attached to your opinion.

It’s liberating to voice your opinion anonymously, but that comes with its own hazards. Many companies are even removing anonymous feedback altogether.

It’s not that they’re afraid of what people have to say. Rather, it’s because they’ve found that anonymous feedback doesn’t provide the right kind of response:

  • People opt to write unhelpful, unspecific criticism rather than a critique with suggestions for improvement.
  • There’s no chance of having a conversation to clarify or rectify the problem.
  • Anonymity tends to bring out people’s emotions and egos, turning an objective piece of feedback into a mini hit piece

Image credit: The New York Times

But Rey Elbo disagrees with the decision to ban anonymous feedback altogether. He says that, even if the feedback seems mean or opinionated, one must still consider “that there’s something wrong somewhere.” Just because the feedback is phrased poorly does not mean that the problem does not exist.

If you can, try to cut through the anonymity by providing easy access to customer support. Your users will have a more positive experience if they can have their problem solved before it becomes a point of frustration.

Otherwise, try finding patterns in the data to understand the motive for your anonymous feedback.

4. Career Growth Encourages Negative Feedback

If you’ve ever worked in a large company, you’ve undoubtedly been told something along these lines:

The best leaders always ask for feedback, and employees won’t grow without receiving it.

Managers are expected to grow their team by applying feedback when necessary. The employees are the ones receiving that feedback in the form of performance reviews, and they might even be encouraged to give feedback to their coworkers.

employee feedback

Source: Statistics On The Importance Of Employee Feedback [HubSpot]

It’s drilled into us that constructive criticism is the key to growing not just ourselves, but the companies we’re a part of. So, when you provide your users with a survey asking for their feedback, it’s likely they’ll respond in the same way they’ve been taught.

This could even mean that they didn’t have any negative feedback in mind until you asked for it—at which point they’ll search their mind for something negative in order to provide something constructive.

5. Negativity for the Sake of Being Negative

Yes, we’re basically talking about internet trolls—but don’t get that confused with poorly constructed criticism.

While it’s less common to see this kind of thing in your user feedback surveys, you’d be hard-pressed not to find the occasional troll commenting on your social media posts.

You can ruminate for hours on why someone would want to leave a rude or hurtful comment on your paid Facebook ad, but it’s useless—they simply thought it was funny or amusing to do so.

negative feedback

Image credit: Hootsuite

At the same time, not every trollish or poorly worded comment is there without motive. They might just be an upset customer who is choosing to respond rudely. They might even be willing to give a more constructive opinion if you’re willing to show them that someone’s listening.

Turn That Negative Feedback Into Something Positive!

Those were five reasons for why people feel so inclined to leave negative feedback.

In order to turn that feedback into something useful, you have to know what to do with it. Here are some ways to do that:

Don’t Take it Personally

Why is it so had to take negative feedback, in the first place? Margie Warrell of Forbes helps shed light on the matter:

“…Hearing critical feedback strikes at the heart of two core human needs — the need to learn and grow, and the need to be accepted just the way we are. Consequently, even a gentle suggestion to do something differently can leave us feeling wounded.”

Taking negative feedback is tough for anyone. Even so, she suggests that you should welcome criticism with open arms, but not to let it bring you down. If seeing one’s own faults was easy, everyone would be dramatically improving themselves.

Take Control by Responding Positively

When someone leaves a negative review on a public directory, such as your Yelp page or on Google Reviews, it can be a big blow—especially if the complaint seems unfounded or flat-out inaccurate.

“Getting the last word in” isn’t a healthy strategy that anyone should abide by when it comes to receiving criticism, but when it comes to defending managing your reputation, a coolheaded response is the perfect thing to bring the power back into your hands.

Here’s how Ryan Erskine suggests formulating your response:

  • Acknowledge and apologize, even if you’re not at fault.
  • Speak to the complaint’s primary concern with specificity rather than providing a stock response. This will show that you’ve taken the effort to understand the problem.
  • Move to resolve the situation offline by providing contact information and the name of a representative.
  • Wrap it all up into a message that’s short and sweet.

Erskine also notes a Harvard study which found people were less likely to leave negative reviews on a listing with responses from the business owner. You have nothing to lose by responding!

Convert It Into Useful Data

What better way to remove the emotional impact of negative feedback than by categorizing and compartmentalizing it into a spreadsheet?

More importantly, receiving negative feedback and suggestions is essential to the process of improving your product.  

We’ve written an entire post on how to collect and integrate feedback for improving your product. It all comes down to this:

  • Collect feedback from reviews, social media, surveys, and other channels
  • Find the patterns of negative feedback that speak to a common problem or demand
  • Create a feature prioritization matrix to help you decide which suggestions should be addressed first

Top 7 Reasons Your Customers Don’t Provide Feedback (and what to do instead) ]

Implementing the changes suggested by your customers shows that they’re truly being heard, and it’s essential for the growth of your product.


Negative feedback is crucial for growth, whether you’re an individual or a business. People understand this and are willing to provide negative feedback when asked.

At the same time, our built-in negativity bias can cause us to respond negatively more than positively. Combined with the anonymity provided by the internet, it’s easy for criticism to become imbued with emotions.

We can’t forget that some people will be negative just for the sake of it—but that doesn’t mean you should discredit their opinion entirely.

But when all is said and done, negative feedback is crucial for growth. There are a number of ways to reposition negative feedback to help you and your product grow.

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