What happens when you receive feedback that you don’t like?
Let’s start with a series of questions that I’ve noted in a previous post. “If I were not performing well:
- Would I want to know about it?
- When would I want to know about it?
- How would I want to know about it?”
The unanimous answers when I’ve asked employees the above questions are:
- Directly, specifically and supportively.”
Although we want feedback in the ways described above, it often doesn’t come in those ways. It’s often non-existent, late, done publicly, biased and, most painfully, it can be harsh and demeaning. The result is often that we become angry, defensive, emotionally disconnected and, most significantly, don’t change our behavior.
But we need information underneath the words in order to change, grow and improve. The trick is to hear what’s important and usable information and to disregard the unhelpful part.
So how do we go about extracting what’s helpful from what isn’t? A useful method to begin is to recognize the four most common ways that people give poor feedback and then learn what to do about each one.
- Personally offensive
Unbalanced Feedback will focus mainly on negative behavior and often the most recent negative event.
Joe was responsible for the company’s annual report to its stockholders. Due to a printing company glitch, the server unexpectedly crashed and the report was three days late to his boss who was furious. This event occurred one month before his performance review and when the review was presented, this event took precedence over all the other good work that had happened during the year.
When receiving this kind of feedback, people may lose sight of their strengths and focus on their weaknesses. A better way of dealing with unbalanced feedback is to look at it in a larger context. Does this person tend to focus on the negative or have difficulty giving positive feedback? What have other people said about me over a measured time frame? Is this new feedback or have I heard this before? Have there been special issues recently that have caused this behavior to occur?
By looking at the larger context as well as the person who sent the message, Joe was able to restore balance and reinforce what he was doing well.Inaccurate Feedback contains material you don’t agree with; you never did, said or thought what’s reported.Mary’s key customer received his printer order without the printer cartridges. Instead of calling her directly, he went to Mary’s boss who blamed her for the problem. A later investigation showed that shipping had miss-packed the order.
In the above scenario, most people will get a bit stuck, focus on the feedback’s inaccuracy and miss some important information. A better way of handling inaccurate feedback is to put aside the question of the feedback’s inaccuracy and, where possible, focus on the accuracies. Ask yourself: Why might people look at me in this way? What are they perceiving or thinking? By looking at why her key customer was so quick to judge her, Mary learned how she was viewed by him and others.
In a next post I’ll cover Irrelevant and Personally Offensive feedback