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How Skillful Is Your Response When You Get Feedback?

It can be even tougher to accept feedback than it is to give it. It’s never easy to hear that your idea, behavior, or effort didn’t have the desired effect or wasn’t well received.

When you’re given negative feedback, you may feel wronged, misjudged, or just plain uncomfortable. It can be hard to listen closely or find a good response on the fly. It can be difficult to know when it’s appropriate to comment, and even if you don’t speak, your facial expressions or body language may not be helpful to you.

So how can you make the experience more productive?

Tuning Up Your Receiver

Make sure you “get” your reviewers and what they’re saying — no matter how hard it is. Don’t question the reasons for the feedback or its validity. Instead, try to repeat the feedback exactly as given, so they can tell that you absorbed what they said. Then check to be sure: “It sounds like you meant X” or “I see that you wouldn’t want Y again.”

If you come across as defensive, your commentators may feel obliged to defend their points instead of considering the relevance or accuracy of your points. In fact, they’ll likely feel more confirmed in their views if you “force” them to justify their opinions.

Pay real attention to their examples of what went badly or needs improvement — and if your reviewers don’t give examples, request some: “It will help me understand what didn’t work and how I can do better if you give me some specifics. I think I get what you mean, but I really want to make sure I don’t make that mistake again.”

Ask for a break if you’re having trouble digesting the review or if you suspect you might respond in an out-of-control way. Perhaps you feel deeply disappointed that things weren’t going as well as you believed them to be or your contribution wasn’t appreciated as much as you’d hoped. Or you may even feel frightened that you’re not performing successfully enough.

And If You Don’t Agree?

What if the specific comments don’t seem relevant to you? What if you actively disagree with the assessment and find management’s perceptions inaccurate or their conclusions misguided? Once you’ve shown that you understand their concerns fully, they may be comfortable to hear your alternative proposals.

But for many managers, the need to control specific details increases in direct proportion to the strength of their perception that things aren’t going well. Difficulties arise when these managers decide to assert their authority — but happen to be wrong about how to get the adjustments or improvements they want.

If the authority structure requires you to perform to your manager’s direction, then the only reasonable thing (barring an ethical violation) is to try your best to follow that direction. On the other hand, if you’re required to deliver a particular outcome or result, but you’re not being forced to do it in a particular way, then at least you’ll be forewarned about what the expectations are.

When Feedback is Inappropriate

But what if you feel like you’re being attacked? Even in a good workplace there are occasionally managers who are dictatorial, arbitrary, or immature, as well as managers who aren’t willing to shift their views, aren’t open to your suggestions, and actually behave badly in their ongoing relationship with you.

Be practical. Focus primarily on delivering the desired performance. If you believe there’s something unethical or inappropriate about your manager’s direction or behavior, you may need to appeal to a senior manager or your company’s human resources department for help. Depending upon the severity of the difficulty, you may even want to think about looking for other employment.

And whatever the situation, don’t do a lot of venting to other colleagues — or even your own subordinates. No matter how sympathetic people may feel toward you or how much they believe you’re in the right, they’re still likely to lose confidence in you over time if you continue to complain.

Onward and upward,


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