No matter how well you perform at work everyone experiences receiving negative feedback (or at least they would in a learning or continuous improvement environment). Technically, feedback is feedback, we judge it as being positive or negative. All feedback, even positive feedback or the things we do well, is about improving ourselves even if that means continuing to do the good things we do.
Negative feedback can hurt. Our ego can be sensitive. It can go further and trigger feelings of shame or ‘not being good enough’ as some of my coaching clients experience. If negative feedback affects you in that way, then pay close attention to the BEFORE tips below to better prepare yourself (and consider working with a coach or therapist to get to the root of the issue).
Here are things you can do BEFORE, DURING and AFTER receiving the feedback (any feedback actually, positive or constructive).
BEFORE Getting any Feedback
1. Change your mindset about negative feedback. Think of it as constructive or developmental; meant to help you improve or be more effective (even if it’s delivered to you in a clumsy, less-than-ideal manner). Yes, this is a bit of mental gymnastics. Often, it’s said that feedback is a gift (imagine a beautifully wrapped box) think of it that way so when it comes you have that visual to ground you in the positive.
2. Identify what feedback would you give yourself. Proactively think about the areas you could improve to increase your effectiveness right now. Chances are you know the feedback others would probably give you (and sometimes we’re tougher on ourselves than others would be). What would you advise yourself to do differently to improve? How could some of your strengths help you make those improvements?
3. Reflect on your past experiences of receiving feedback. What did you think and how did you feel? What was it about that feedback that caused you to feel that way? What did it remind you of in your past? What did you tell yourself about that feedback? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider their perspective in giving you that feedback? It can often be what we imagine or assume about the feedback that threatens us, more than the feedback itself.
DURING the Feedback Itself
1. Listen. Breathe. Listen. Listen to understand not to respond or defend. Breath while you are listening to stay present and not become reactive. Try to understand what the other person is saying. My executive coaching clients find simply nodding signals listening and buys them time to compose themselves and put their attention on what’s being said rather than the icky feeling inside.
2. Ask questions to understand better. As Stephen Covey, the famous educator, businessman and author said decades ago, seek first to understand before being understood. Ask them to repeat it again (in case you didn’t hear it the first time because you were listening to the little voices in your head defending yourself). Ask for specific examples to help you understand. Ask, in a curious tone, questions about what they see or hear you doing that’s impeding your performance such as:
• What behaviours am I doing that aren’t effective?
• What am I saying that has that impact?
• What specifically would you suggest I do or say?
• How should I do or say it differently to improve?
These types of questions can even help people that are poor at giving feedback to be better.
3. Acknowledge having heard the feedback. Restate what you have heard so you can confirm you’ve received it as intended. Tell the other person you will go away and consider how to act on their feedback. Depending on the feedback, the situation and the individual who said it to you, you might want to say you will come back to them to talk it through further or share your improvements. Say thank you (even if it’s thanking them for just caring about your performance!).
AFTER Getting Feedback
1. Consciously decide where to “take” the feedback. This tip relates back to the idea of feeling bad about ourselves when we receive negative feedback. There are different “lens” through which you can “see” the feedback. You can see it at a behavioural level (hence, why you ask them what they see or hear you doing, to focus them on giving you feedback about behaviours). At the other end, you can see it at an identity level, that you are a bad person or not good enough for the role. A useful structure to help assess where to take (and give) feedback is below. Its origins are from The Logical Levels, a tool or model in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) developed by coach, consultant and trainer Robert Dilts and Todd Epstein. Focus on receiving the feedback at the outer 3 levels and ask questions to get the feedback at those levels.
Copyright Anne Taylor, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, Practical Inspiration Publishing, London 2020
2. Decide what you will take on board. As with any gift, you can decide whether to receive it or not. Firstly, find the 2% truth in the feedback. You might not agree with anything the person is saying but often there is 2% truth in there somewhere. You had an impact, in the case of negative feedback, an ineffective impact. How that impact has been interpreted by the ‘giver of the feedback’ may not be entirely inaccurate. Putting your ego and self-doubt aside, what truth is in the feedback they are proposing? Secondly, decide if you will do anything with the feedback. Depending on the feedback, the situation and the giver of the feedback you need to consciously decide what’s best for you personally, for your performance and potentially your career. Lastly, if you decide all or some of it is relevant then develop a plan of action to improve it. You already have ideas from them when you asked what you could do differently to be more effective.
3. Follow up as necessary. You might want to follow up with the person that gave you the feedback to get more clarity by asking more questions. There is no harm in re-visiting it to understand more or to get suggestions on what to do better. You could also let them know what you are doing with the feedback, if anything. This very much depends on the situation, the feedback and who gave it. Some of the positives of doing this are: positively reinforcing that person to continue to give feedback, creating a feedback culture, showing you value them and their observations, and potentially having them think more highly of you as you take your impact seriously.
Remember, just as you might have struggled with receiving negative feedback others might too. Take that into consideration when you are giving feedback to others. Keep it focused on things they can change like behaviour, skills and capabilities. Don’t get personal, don’t give feedback at an identity level. Frame it as developmental and express your intention to help them improve their effectiveness. For more information on how to give feedback well see my blog, How to Give Constructive Feedback to Empower People.
What feedback would you like to address to improve your performance?
Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore feedback you’ve received and how you can become more effective, satisfied and successful.
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