Work

It’s Not Personal, It’s Feedback

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by feedback. 🙋 Opening yourself up for evaluation is incredibly vulnerable, and when a friend recently DM’d me a Leo starter pack (leave it to meme culture), which read “Feedback as a personal attack”, we lol’d for many messages thereafter. Call me assessment-adverse, but this one hit home.

We’ve all felt that clammy-palmed, stomach-sinking feeling before someone offers their thoughts and critiques on our work, often leaving us to overthink and overcompensate (It’s not just a Leo thing, right?!).

Much of the conversation surrounding feedback defaults to ways in which it could best be delivered—not received. Sure, our educational institutions implement practices like the grading system, project critiques, and peer reviews in an attempt to teach us how to welcome evaluation with open arms, yet we often lack the ability to embrace opposition by virtue of our own excuses.

Sheila Heen, professor of Law at Harvard and author of Thanks for the Feedback, calls this “wrong spotting”. She says, “There’s always going to be something wrong with the feedback—it could be 90% wrong—and that last 10% is just what you need to start thinking about.”

Bottom line: Feedback is important and when receptive to it, it can be immensely beneficial to our own self-worth and autonomy. “If you’re passionate or care a lot about your work, of course, you feel close to it and feedback can feel unnecessarily critical or even mean,” says Emily Ramshaw, Country Lead for Bumble in Canada. “[But] the decision to act on feedback represents growth.”

Fear not, there are ways in which we can learn to become better recipients of such critique. Make mental note of these *easily digestible* tips to aid in making the uncomfortable comfortable—at least for the next time you’re hit with an email titled, “Some Thoughts”.

Embrace the attention

If you’re being ignored in the workplace, it’s likely not a good thing. Rebecca Gebhardt, business coach and founder of Rise Up Consulting, highlights that the chance to be given feedback is an investment in you and part of a larger discussion about where you align with the company’s business goals.

“People need to fundamentally understand that it’s all part of the process—it’s just a lesson, it’s not a failure. Someone isn’t going to spend the time and give feedback to someone they don’t think can improve. You want interaction with your boss; you want that mentorship,” says Gebhardt.

Give yourself space to process

“[When someone gives feedback] the response should be, “You know what, that’s really great feedback. Do you mind if I take this and digest it? I’m going to follow up tomorrow on it,” Gebhardt suggests.

“Stepping away and just acknowledging that you didn’t see this coming or expressing the issue—I just think that makes people really responsible,” says Gebhardt. Keeping it 100% is a sign of respect to not only the giver, but to yourself.

Let others know how you operate

Having an open and honest conversation with your manager about how you process feedback, based on previous patterns and experiences, is crucial. If you’re new, Gebhardt recommends expectation-setting with something like, “‘I’m here to learn, I’m here to grow with this company, but how I actually handle feedback is this way…’ For example, ‘I do really well with expectations and positive reinforcement.’”

Don’t rehash the story

How many times have you called your mom, best friend, even roommate, in a rage mere seconds after leaving an uncomfortable situation? It’s extremely common for us to run back to our comfort zone when we feel exposed, something Gebhardt calls “the pendulum swing”. “You go out in search of people who you know will accommodate your feeling—people who are on your side. They’ll start gossiping and getting angry, rehashing the story over and over, which really isn’t helpful.”

Next time, take the afternoon for yourself to mull things over before engaging with someone. You’ll be more likely to seek out opinions of those who will encourage you to analyze the feedback rationally before reacting.

A culture of collaboration

Collaboration doesn’t have to be reserved for teamwork amongst colleagues, it can and should stem from your higher-ups as well.  Fostering productivity and innovation at every level is integral to building a healthy work culture.

“My current boss’s way of sharing feedback has been the most effective to date. Instead of criticizing or telling me what’s wrong, she’ll ask me to rethink an initiative or an idea with suggested solutions or ways of improving. The feedback is, in that way, more collaborative. It makes me feel like a problem or mistake isn’t mine alone to deal with, and helps me to feel inspired for the next round of work,” says Ramshaw.

Katherine Ormerod, author and founder of WorkWorkWork, recalls a similar experience with her literary agent, when writing her first book early last year. “I respect her to the nth degree—her taste, her outlook and her sense of humor. She offers feedback in a really collaborative way, but isn’t condescending with it. I don’t need to be mollycoddled, but I need to understand where the feedback is coming from. There is literally nothing worse than seeing red lines through your work with no explanation.”

Change your perspective

Rather than accepting that the truth hurts, try rephrasing in your head altogether. Receiving feedback—whether good or bad—is an opportunity to look inward, which in itself can only cultivate success.

“If someone you respect has found the guts to give you honest feedback, you have to see it as the very best thing that’s happened to you all week. Yes, you might have to lick your wounds, but they’ve made the effort to engage in your work and offer a suggestion about how you can shift your perspective. It’s going to make the work better and that is all that matters,” says Ormerod.

“It’s like a video-game; all of this stuff is just part of our toolbox that we have when we level up. We don’t have the energy to handle other people or other things in our lives if we don’t,” Gebhardt adds.

Your move

When looking to pop culture references on how to deal with feedback, perhaps one of the most memorable is Robin William’s poetic lesson to Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting—and it’s worth re-watching.

Now I’m not saying the next time you receive a piece of feedback you need to exude the utmost constraint, I’m just saying that it’s in your best interest to hear out the critiques. The more we analyze our pre-conditioned programming, the more we can see it for what it is: a growth opportunity.

Your move, chief.


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