Honesty in limited measure isn’t honesty. When you ask someone where they’ve been and the response from that person is “out,” do you accept that final answer? It’s most common for you to say something like, “Out where?” You want a complete, honest answer, and even more so when you get that kind of initial response!
Feedback is supposed to be honest. Not mean, not sugar-coated, not inflammatory, but honest. And yet, when we receive it, we may be tempted to refuse it because we don’t believe it to be true. The defense mechanisms kick in. We begin to search our minds for reasons to push back. We may verbalize arguments against it or attacks on the deliverer of the feedback. And those of you reading now who are finding themselves already posturing against this being you might need to re-evaluate. It’s called a natural defense mechanism for a reason.
As with most conditional responses, whether a mental or overt response, there are some behavioral modification techniques that will help (watch out BF Skinner-ites…about to get good!).
- Context Consideration – walk through the context of the feedback thoughtfully. Are these feedback points clearly about the work that that I do for the company? If so, then keep the context narrow. These comments may not be indicative of a global truth about me. They represent only how the work I do is offered and/or received. My context is that I have an audience to the work I do, and I want to be sure to deliver so it’s received well. And while it may feel personal (and maybe some of it is), ultimately, it’s about my role.
- Address Negative Bias – hearing the term “feedback” may be elicit a conditioned response of presumed negativity. You hear any commentary, whether truly negative/constructive or, in fact, positive, through a lens of “OK, what’s he/she/they getting at?” Expecting the worst, or at least close to it, means hearing the worst. Even, “I see so much progress in your skills this year” is heard as a slight. “Oh, you mean, I wasn’t skilled before?” It’s a defensive posture, usually heightened from some previous experiences that were not healthy. Not every manager is out to get you. Confront that bias head on as you hear information. Call out the negative tape playing in your head.
- Framing – Listen to both affirmational and constructive feedback for opportunities to frame a further plan of action for development or for display. How can I take these points and create opportunities for excellence? By framing a plan forward, the current feedback is not the end, but rather a means to further opportunity. Without framing, the feedback may be seen as the end of the path. As you may have seen in coworkers, when that happens, the employee settles into an “I guess I’ve reached my potential here” or “I am not giving any more than I do since they don’t appreciate it” position. Framing looks for deeper development and chances for innovative application.
Starting with these few techniques will change the entire feedback process for you, both as a receiver AND a deliverer. You will be more considerate and intentional about feedback you offer. You will proactively look for ways to deliver your messaging in feedback to be affirmational in continuous improvement and creative opportunities. And you won’t rely on sugar-coating difficult feedback, but rather, you will have first-hand understanding of behavioral modification techniques that you can weave into the delivery of information. Those who report to you will appreciate that kind of thoughtfulness.
Feedback isn’t code for “you suck.” But if the message received is truly one of “maybe this isn’t the role for you,” then isn’t it good to know that and frame a plan moving forward to seek out a more aligned role? That’s not negative; it’s saving you time (years, maybe) from staying in a job that you’re not designed for. If you think about it that way, you actually received positive feedback.