How Feedback Makes You Better, Even if it's Awful
A poor review, getting called out for an error in a presentation, a verbal chastising from your boss - all of these are enough to make most of us break out in a cold sweat. The fear of reputational damage, of looking stupid, of getting fired or losing your ability to support your family is valid - you’re at risk.
So how do we take these critical moments and flip them into opportunities?
1) Mindset is everything.
Being defensive will not help you. Sharing all the reasons why what you did was the perfect decision at the time only digs you in deeper. If you are too stuck on defending yourself, you will never get to the other side where you see the opportunities to be even better. If you’re worried about being attacked, you’re too busy armoring up and preparing your rebuttal to hear the nugget of gold that the other person is trying to share with you.
2) Look past the packaging.
The delivery might not be pretty. It might be lumped in with inaccuracies, accusations or insults. It might be loaded with strong emotions. The key is to stand strong and imagine you have a Teflon coating and nothing can stick to you. Don’t think about the past, the future, or what you’re going to say next. Now is not the time to problem solve. It’s the time to process the information you’re getting right now and reflect on it. Listen carefully. What truths can you find? What diamonds in the rough are waiting to be found in there? What can you learn? What takeaways will you be able to use as tools for future success?
3) Share your appreciation.
You might have to dig deep on this one, especially if you’re emotionally triggered. What can you thank the other person for? It could be their honesty, or their perspective, or the opportunity to make amends. If you can’t find anything to be thankful for, step away for a bit and think again when you’re calm.
4) Decide what you’ll do with what you’ve learned.
Will you change the way you approach certain situations? Tweak your product offering? Show more empathy in a customer service snafu in the future? Get a second set of eyes on your work before publishing? Determine how you will take the feedback and make it WORK for you, or it’s a 100% wasted opportunity.
5) Repair the relationship.
This repair needs to extend to both parties, and will depend on the type of relationship you have. Without this step you are guaranteed failure with this person in the future. Don’t avoid feelings - it takes courage and professionalism to discuss them. We aren’t robots and pretending like we are gets you nowhere fast. Own your emotions and fully address them in the other party.
If the person who provided the feedback is in a supervisory position, it’s critical that you both can come back together feeling good about where you land. This will take vulnerability on your part. You might have to share your emotions and explain why you responded how you did (especially if you aren’t proud of your initial reaction). You may want to address some concerns that you disagree with now that you’re calm and clear-headed. You may want to ask clarifying questions so you can better utilize the feedback provided, or better understand where they are coming from. This may take multiple conversations over a period of time. The repair is not complete until you both feel settled.
If this is a customer, it’s critical that you do not bullet-point out all the ways they were incorrect or that you actually did a good job. This never, ever works. They will either take their business elsewhere, or worse, stick around and make your life a living hell as punishment. You don’t have to agree - but you can empathize with their emotions, match their level of energy, respect and respond appropriately to their level of urgency, and provide solutions for the issues they raise. Give them options and express genuine concern. Dig deep if you have to. Genuine empathy cannot be faked and is essential to recovery, or you are guaranteed to fail. If this is a struggle for you, I HIGHLY recommend you read The Customer Service Survival Kit. This is required reading for my teams.
If the feedback came from a peer or direct report, then it took some guts and likely some serious respect and care for you to share their thoughts. They don’t have to give you feedback. They chose to, and likely because they want things to be better. This feedback is often more compelling and more helpful than feedback you’ll get from a supervisor or customer, who must work through you to get results they want. Thank them and use this as an opportunity to understand each other better. If you can express real concern for their best interests then you will always come out ahead of the game.
In all situations, remember that we’re all just flawed and silly humans trying to do the best we can in weird, crazy world. Always take the high road and you will never have to look back with regret.
Kendehl Rojanasthien is passionate about living life fully. For her, that means encouraging and believing in herself, her family and friends with an eye towards reaching our full potential - a life of joy, love, integrity, and going after our dreams.