Disclaimer: I took this picture of my daughter after she lost her first tooth. It's supposed to be funny. No, really.
I've been musing over how people respond to feedback, both positive and negative. I've read books and attended classes on how best to deliver both types. I've done some research. What has really surprised me is how little information is out there on how to take feedback.
Especially negative feedback, which is frequently the most critical to individual growth. Candidly, I've received more than my fair share of this as well. As a primer, here's how NOT to respond to critical feedback. And, yes, I've unfortunately done some of this as well. So, take it from someone who learned the hard way. Or, more to the point, just take it.
1. Don't clam up.
Believe me when I say that most reasonable managers/leaders put a lot of thought into how to deliver negative feedback -- or to use the more common parlance, "critical feedback." When the conversation happens, the person talking to you wants to interact with you. If someone refuses to respond, it's common for the other person to assume a lack of respect or an unwillingness to listen. Talk.
2. Don't argue.
Sometimes the feedback isn't going to be perfectly accurate (from your perspective). Try to remember that the person delivering the feedback is presenting what he or she feels is a reasonable assessment. The feedback stands even if it is not accurate. This may sound crazy, but try to remember that, as a professional, you are responsible for managing the perception of both yourself and your work. Rather than argue over the feedback, how about discussing intent? How about working with your manager or lead on how best to present yourself or your work?
3. Don't be dismissive.
Believe it or not, some people dismiss feedback when it happens. They will manufacture any number of reasons why the sources of the feedback or the content itself shouldn't be listened to or how the feedback doesn't apply to them. This is about the worst thing you could do when receiving feedback. Doing so, you create the perception that you cannot and will not change either your work or your behavior. Here's the shorthand version: the next step involves HR.
4. Don't go political.
Anyone remember that kid in school who used to brag about getting in trouble with the teacher? Yeah, he or she is in the workplace now -- and his/her behavior hasn't changed that much. While cathartic, this is ultimately unproductive. I'm not saying you shouldn't vent, but be mindful that venting to colleagues doesn't resolve the feedback. Also, remember that your peers are not the same as your lead. Your peers aren't going to give you the same honest feedback. And if you rank your peers' feedback while ignoring your lead's, then you may risk a slow and shallow career trajectory.
What to do: Take it.
Everyone receives critical feedback over the course of his or her career. It's to be expected. It's what you do with the feedback that measures the type of person and employee you are. When you do happen to be on the receiving end of some critical feedback, here is a short list of respectful responses:
- Ask questions. Good, productive questions
- Suggest alternative practices or behaviors
- Ask for feedback again in the future.