With the long-term trend of protecting employees’ individual self esteem added to an overriding concern over expensive employee lawsuits, accountability is more a buzzword than a way of life at most companies.
This is a state of mind that has existed since the 1960s, so the average employee has never received real quality negative feedback — the kind of feedback that might help startle him or her out of career-dashing behavior and toward a more lucrative and successful work life.
Smart employers realize that people are their only sustainable competitive advantage. Companies hiring this year will be looking for people who are highly capable in their fields of expertise and who energize the other people with whom they work. This will hold true for traditional employees as well as independent contractors who will continue to make up a larger and larger part of the workforce.
Don’t wait for this new world of employment, prepare yourself now to get the feedback from others that will help you develop into the powerful person you can be. First, begin to change the way you feel about receiving feedback. Listen to the messages you get from those close to you: your spouse, children, close friends, other family members. Write them down and consider them as food for thought. Begin to analyze common pieces of feedback objectively and develop ideas about what you might do if you wanted to change their perceptions.
A key factor to remember about all feedback: it is one opinion coming from another individual’s unique perspective. It is up to you to consider it thoughtfully, compare it to other feedback you have received and do something positive with it. It is impossible for us to see ourselves as others see us, but very important that we don’t allow these blind spots to jeopardize wonderful opportunities.
Here’s a system for taking in feedback for maximum benefit:
- When receiving any feedback, listen without comment, looking directly at the person. When they have finished, don’t make any statements, but do ask questions if you want clarification. Don’t accept, don’t deny and don’t rationalize. Because we are rarely taught to give feedback well, you will often get feedback when the giver is angry about something in the moment. Quality feedback may be emotional when it touches a heartfelt issue, but it is not abusive. If a co-worker’s critique gets to this point you should ask to stop the discussion and have it at another time when cooler heads prevail.
- Recognize the courage it took to give you the feedback and consider it a sincere gift intended to help you grow. Thank the giver for feedback – make it short, but something you can say sincerely, such as “You’ve really given me something to think about, thanks.” It is hard to feel real appreciation when you hear negative messages about your behavior, so it is important to have simple words of gratitude prepared ahead of time.
- Immediately write down all you can remember of the feedback, recording as many words used by the giver as possible. Allow yourself at least 2 days to process the information, taking no action to change your perceived behavior. Watch what you do and how other react to it. After a few days, go back and look at your original notes. Take out the emotion-packed words and look for the basic message.
- Know that feedback can be tough to receive, even if we solicit it and are grateful for it. Although it is simply another’s perception, it can shake up your feelings about yourself. Plan to do something nice for yourself when you know you are facing tough feedback. Try to do something that bolsters self-esteem – dinner with friends, or engage in an activity that you are particularly good at.
- Discuss the feedback with friends or others whose opinions you respect, but ask them not to react to the message. Tell them you are only looking for sympathy for the difficulty of going through a rigorous self-development process, but that you don’t want them to agree or disagree with the feedback. It would be normal to want to invalidate negative feedback, and to get others to help you, but you will lose what may be a critical grain of truth if you do.
- Use feedback in a positive way as soon as practical, not with the giver, but with others. Over time you may even want to tell others to lightly remind you if you slip back to old ways. “Jack, I don’t want to bug you, but you asked me to remind you if you started to get behind on those reports.”
You are ready to receive feedback when you:
- Want to know yourself as others see you and you are clear that this is their perception, not necessarily what is true about you inside.
- Trust your co-workers to care enough about your development to risk giving their opinion.
- Have a place outside work you can talk it through.
- Have opportunities for additional feedback so you get validation of the changes you have made.
Things you can do now to get more feedback at work:
- Find out if your employer has a 360 degree review program or is willing to allow you to work with your human resources department to develop a feedback program tailored to you.
- Look back at old performance reviews and see if there are common comments you can use.
- Consider hiring a personal development coach to give you alternative methods of getting feedback, such as personality testing.
- Decide to use the feedback to get a promotion or change career direction so that you have a reason to get involved in the process.
As you get to know yourself better, feedback will become less painful. You learn how to put it into a larger perspective and how to allow it to help you achieve your dreams.
About the author
Jan B. King is the former President & CEO of Merritt Publishing, a top 50 woman-owned and run business in Los Angeles and the author of Business Plans to Game Plans: A Practical System for Turning Strategies into Action (John Wiley & Sons, 2004). She has helped hundreds of businesses with her book and her ebooks, The Do-It-Yourself Business Plan Workbook, and The Do-It-Yourself Game Plan Workbook. See www.janbking.com for more information.