Turns out you can’t control how other people talk to you! You can’t control their tone, their words, or what is left unsaid. Bummer! But you can control how you respond and what you do with what gets said. YES – you are in control. Just because we don’t like who gave us the feedback or how they gave it, we tend to throw it away…. and there might just be a little bit of truth we are throwing away too.
Chances are you want to learn and grow AND be valued and recognized for your expertise, commitment, and unique contribution.
This is the dilemma – you want feedback to learn and grow, but when you feel criticized, the need to be valued and recognized is threatened and negative emotions are triggered. This is a reasonable response – but when negative emotions are triggered, feedback can’t come in.
The solution is not to ignore the emotions, but to understand and manage them so we can create a new experience when receiving feedback. You are in charge of whether or not you take in feedback and if you want to change.
Receiving Positive Feedback
Most of us are familiar and quite comfortable being told we are great at such-and-such. It is nice to have one’s ego stroked and we receive a little dopamine boost as a side benefit. However, we are less accustomed to receiving positive feedback that is specific, that gives us insight into what behavior, attitude, or aspect of who we are or what we did that is valued and worth repeating. I am sure we have all received a “good job” or “that was great, keep it up” throw-away comment? Whilst given with the best of intentions, the receiver is left wondering what specifically was great? Which part do I need to repeat? Nothing we do in the workplace is a single act, it is always a combination of planning, preparing, executing, and relating. The more specific the positive feedback, the more we can learn from and repeat.
Receiving Drive-by Feedback
Likewise, we have probably all been subject to “drive-by” feedback that is critical, negative, or destructive. An off-handed comment, a carelessly placed “helpful suggestion” that lands like a wet rag on our parade. Often the drive-by feedback lacks context, specifics, and an opportunity to engage. And so the impact is negative and a downer on a perfectly decent day.
If we could wave our magic wand and turn all feedback we receive into constructive, forward-focused conversations, delivered by others with the best of intentions and that allow us to engage with what is being said, there would be no need for people like me, who help others learn the skills of giving feedback.
But we don’t get to order magic wands on Amazon.
So we are left dealing with poorly delivered, badly timed feedback that we didn’t necessarily need or ask for. But there it is. So what choice do you have?
Ignore it OR work to engage with it. Our responsibility as active learners is to engage with the feedback even if it is badly delivered or unasked for because sometimes, hidden within this feedback is just what we might need to lift our performance up a notch.
Where to begin with engaging with negative feedback?
Separate the WHAT was said from WHO and HOW and WHEN it was said. That is easy to write but tough to execute.
Very often we discard feedback because it was given to us by someone we don’t like or trust or who is less experienced, or has limited exposure to what we do. At other times the way the feedback was delivered or when it was delivered isn’t what you would like, so we discard the feedback. Our challenge is to dust off the When, Where, How and Who and focus on the WHAT. A comment casually thrown in your direction in the middle of a team meeting might contain a gem of insight. A line on an email carelessly worded and hidden among other items is easy to ignore. But when your antennae are searching for feedback to help you learn and grow… you get a lot better at finding what you are looking for.
The next step
The next step is to consciously engage with the feedback. What might be right with this feedback? What might be entirely wrong? Make a list. And if you aren’t sure whether to act on this, validate it with a few key advisors and mentors. One off-handed comment does NOT make for absolute truth. But perhaps it is something others have thought and just never verbalized. When you actively work to examine feedback given to you, you are in charge of your own growth.
Becoming good at receiving feedback helps others give you more feedback. When you are gracious and curious to learn more about the specifics, the impact, and what they would recommend instead, you become known as someone who accepts feedback well. That encourages others to share their insights with you. If you are known to attack back, defend or justify yourself, feedback from others stops. You are just too much work.
To learn more about this important skill, contact Angela.firstname.lastname@example.org now.
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About the Author:
Angela de Longchamps has invested 20 years of practical experience in social and behavioral psychology and human resources into creating highly entertaining, sought after, and valued courses in her field of expertise: Leadership and Executive Presence. She is a creative and innovative speaker, facilitator, designer, and consultant. Angela has corporate experience as a generalist HR professional prior to moving into an international leadership development facilitator & management role at IBM. She is an event speaker & facilitator both in South Africa where she lives and abroad. She is the founder of Inspired Leadership & works with certified partners all over the world to bring this unique approach to developing leaders to organizations.
Contact her: Angela.email@example.com to discuss how you can build accountability and kindness into your management practices.