Feedback is meant to help us to see what we do not and improve from there. Often with a beautiful intent, it is supposed to be a gift. And yet, rarely any gift gives us this much pain.
We can be grateful for the honesty and kindness; still, some comments are hard to swallow. The modern corporate culture demands us to take feedback positively. If you question the validity of feedback, you risk looking defensive and arrogant; If you feel sad about it, you are fragile with a “glass heart.” To avoid these, we often rush to thank people, promise follow-up actions for improvement and move on.
The Pain From Feedback
But the emotions we harbor inside do not quickly go away. We’ve all been there:
Sometimes we disagree with the feedback and feel wronged. Where did this come from? What does it mean? What exactly did I do? The anonymous nature of 360 feedback makes it difficult to explore these questions, and we do not want to appear “witch-hunting.” But even with face-to-face feedback, we often give up the right to investigate for fear of being defensive. We get frustrated and confused, rendering the valuable input ineffective or counterproductive.
Or we could overly “agree” with the feedback and take an otherwise generic comment too far: “I am not good enough.” Nowadays, everyone wants to be a high achiever. No matter how tactical the feedback giver says it, “You can be better” and “Area for development” can still sound like “You are not good enough” to many ears.
It is also common that we get entangled in both. Part of us feels hurt, disagreeing with the feedback; part of us agrees that others are right — I’m not good enough. If you get into such painful self-wrestling, you are not alone.
Process Feelings Helps to Process Feedback
One can only examine feedback with a learner’s mindset after he has processed these feelings and thoughts. Our initial reactions, often with emotions, are about deciding: How much of it should I take in or dispute?
If we “decide” to make the feedback a learning goal while feeling unconvinced, confused, or sad, we have not made that decision.
Don’t Take Feedback as Learning goals
Because of how performance appraisal works, we often link feedback to development goals. But feedback should not automatically become the developmental goal. Here’s why:
Learning goals, or any other goals, are only meaningful when we are convinced about the gap and inspired by the end outcome. However, feedback is often on observed behavior patterns and may not be the gap itself. A simple example: if I receive feedback on being “disorganized” lately, my developmental goal might be to have a threshold for my workload and stick to it. If I force myself to take “be more organized” as a developmental goal, I will feel unconvinced — because I’m a very organized person indeed.
Think of it as a new light, with which we can discover more about ourselves and set meaningful goals from there.
Inquire, not defend
Asking questions does not necessarily mean we are defensive. Instead of wondering in your mind, “Where did I do wrong?” “Was I really that bad?”, with a curious and open mindset, ask
- “Where does this come from?”
- “Can you help me to understand it better?”
- “What does this mean?”
Dealing With Unwanted Feedback
Some feedback is unwanted after being given a close look. Maybe it came from a misunderstanding or a one-off occasion. Sometimes, the observer has a bias too. A conclusion that this feedback is not of value to you.
We don’t force ourselves to use unwanted gifts: a decorative item that does not fit your house or an oven when you already have one at home.
It is all right to do the same with unwanted feedback (gift):
- Accept the gift gracefully, thank the person;
- Open the packaging;
- Ask the person when you totally can’t understand what is inside;
- Decide which part of the feedback you can use, just like choosing to use a frying pan out of a cooking set, or simply put the whole gift away after examining.
Did this article remind you of an experience of receiving feedback? Anything to share how you grew out of the initial pain and learned more about yourself? Share in the comments.