“Don’t get defensive,” my manger tells me.
“I am not getting defensive,” I say in response. (Which is exactly what someone who was getting defensive would say!)
The circumstance was my employee review. At the time I was a contracts manager and I worked closely with sales. An anonymous sales lead said they would like if I knew more about the sales process and the needs of the sales team. This was very frustrating to hear.
After I started working at the company, I noticed a huge disconnect between contracts and sales. I made it my mission to create a better culture and environment between the 2 groups. I started by going to the weekly sales meeting – the previous contracts manager did not go to those meetings so this was new for everyone. In those meetings I would ask to the point of almost begging what sales leads would like to see from the contracts department.
On the rare occasion I would get feedback or a suggestion I would highlight who made the suggestion and how I used the feedback in a productive way.
For example: Me to sales team: “Mark let me know some clients want to see our security standards very early on. I made them into an easily readable PDF and put them at this link so you can send them directly to the client when they ask. Thanks for letting me know Mark! If anyone else has a suggestion please let me know, you help me make improvements that benefit all of us!”
What my manger read as defensiveness was frustration. Frustration of wanting feedback. Actively, consistently and insistently asking for feedback and not getting it. My manger saying “don’t get defensive” was in response to my reaction of sales lead’s comment and me saying, “I agree, but how?!”
So the feedback was in. I was told I need to know more about the sales process and the struggles that the sales leads are having. Asking, begging and pleading didn’t work and now I am pegged as someone who gets defensive during reviews. Oh joy.
Feedback can come in many different forms form several different sources. At work from our colleagues and employees. In our personal life from friends, families, partners —even strangers. No matter who we are, how old we are or where we are in life we will always receive feedback from others. It’s this human thing that we all do to each other whether we know it or not.
Handling feedback effectively can be the difference between changing for the better and achieving our goals, and loosing ourselves or feeling frustrated and lost. How we handle feedback is key. Handling feedback effectively will help us to live the life we want. In this article I am going to outline not only how to accept feedback but how to go about receiving and implementing feedback in an healthy and effective way.
Why Feedback is Important
Feedback is another part of how we grow. When people give us feedback they tell us how they are perceiving us and they can give us valuable insight into how we are coming across to the world. When we are tying to better ourselves feedback is essential and can motivate us – if we use it effectively.
Personally I’ve found that I thrive when I receive constructive criticism and feedback so I actively seek it!
With feedback we can see how we are doing. We can even ask people we trust for feedback to see if there are things we need to work on. Bonus: telling someone you are working to improve and then asking for feedback is not only vulnerable (a.k.a totally badass) it is also a way to connect and build stronger relationships. Yes, please!
The Downside of Feedback
Just because someone says something or perceives something a certain way doesn’t mean its true. People can have agendas for giving feedback and their intentions may not always be kind. Even if they have the best intentions at heart they may not have the emotional or intellectual capacity to give effective feedback. And since we live in a society that teaches us to be emotionally unaware some feedback we get can be downright insensitive – even if someone doesn’t realize they are being that way. Some examples of unproductive feedback are:
- “You’re being too emotional.”
- “You’re thinking too much.”
- “I know you said you don’t want to have kids but I think you should revisit because my kids make my life better.”
- “You’re too much like a dude no dude will every want you.” (Ouch, way harsh Tai. No joke, this junk was literally said to me.)
People are also giving us their feedback from their perspective and if their perspective is shit then we are most likely getting shit feedback. I.e. someone who is negative is likely going to see things from a negative lens. Also totally another i.e. if a man feels emasculated by a strong woman he may call her a dude and tell her no one wants her.
But There is Hope!
When we learn how to handle feedback effectively we can utilize it to our benefit. We can take on the positive feedback that helps us as we work on our goals and we can ditch the bad feedback that doesn’t benefit us.
1. Get Excited!
Woot woot! While not all feedback is good feedback it is always great to receive feedback. When the feedback is good we can work with it. When it is bad we can use as a lesson in confidence building.
People rarely give feedback nowadays. It is no wonder why. When we lovely humans get feedback we sometimes get defensive or take it personally. This has created a culture where we may shy away from giving others feedback or where our manager can automatically assume we are going to get defensive and project. Also, on the more compassionate end, we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings with feedback so we may shy away from giving it even though it would be helpful.
With that in mind, if you get any kind of feedback be happy you got it!
2. Allow it to Settle Before Responding
Feedback feels personal because it’s about us and who we are as a person. But we need to focus on not taking it personally, because if we do then the feedback can be met with an emotionally driven response and all productivity is lost.
Of course we don’t want you sitting there frozen just listening. The best thing to do is to say “OK,” or “thanks for letting me know,” and then give yourself time to process.
This is also very important for times when we are just not in the mood to receive feedback. I love getting feedback but if I get a lot of it all at once it can be overwhelming and sometimes I just need time to reflect.
3. Consider the Source
Is the person who gave you feedback a negative person? If they are then they might give negative feedback. Are they someone who knows you well? If they don’t then they could just be giving feedback on a short snippet of you from what they’ve seen. Does this person have other motives? We hope everyone has good intentions, and from what I see typically people do, however, unfortunately, not everyone is nice.
Another great question to ask: Is this person equipped enough to give feedback. Sometimes people have the best intentions but they aren’t clear on what we are trying to do or of all of the elements of a situation so their feedback may be lacking.
4. Make a Value Judgement
Ask yourself, did their feedback hold some ground?
Always keep in mind that when someone gives us feedback their feedback is their opinion. We have the full right and ability to reject the thoughts of others. Sometimes when we get feedback we shift the power focus of the conversation to the person who gave the feedback. (Makes sense if we are used to getting our only feedback from formal reviews given by upper-level management.) That power shift results in an unbalanced dynamic which can lead to confusion, your confidence may suffer and the feedback isn’t being handled productively.
There is a way to keep your power and have a better, healthier dynamic. This is done by putting a value judgment on the feedback giver’s opinion. When you approach it this way you are looking at the feedback from a more grounded and logical place. A place of self-compassion and love in which you are still confident. The idea here is to not shift the power and tell the feedback giver they are wrong (that would be defensive), it is to acknowledge that you are a person, they are a person, you both have thoughts and opinions, you both have value and you are now conversing together.
5. Ask Follow up Questions!
Follow-up questions are the bread and butter. They are where the real valuable info lives. Ask the feedback giver how they came to their assessment or what made them think that way. You can also ask what you could have done differently in order to get a different result. When we do this we get an action plan and we get valuable insights into how we can achieve our goals.
“You’re saying you think I am being standoffish and I don’t want to come off that way, why do you think that?”
“You’re saying I’m being standoffish and I definitely don’t want to come off that way, what could I have done differently so I don’t seem standoffish?”
IMPORTANT REMINDER: Even with follow-up answers remember that this is just someone’s opinion and we can choose to reject their statement. Whatever the case, do not lose your power here. Remember, feedback is 2 equal individuals having a conversation – you just happen to be the topic of that conversation.
Pobody’s nerfect. Even those giving feedback can use help on giving feedback. And if we are going to stop people from giving shyte feedback we need to let them know, in a constructive way, that their feedback needs improvement. Remember, this is your perspective though so you can say something like “You said you thought xyz about me and I don’t think that was so kind. I value your opinion and appreciate feedback, but if you wanted to give feedback it would have been better to approach it this way ….”
“You mentioned in the meeting that my powerpoint looked sloppy. I love your feedback and it helps me to grow and improve. However, going forward I would appreciate that you mention things like that to me 1:1 instead of when we are in a meeting with different departments. Or maybe I should send you the powerpoint before the meetings so you can review first?”
“When you say you think I am overreacting or overthinking it doesn’t help me. Instead of giving a value judgement on my reaction I’d really appreciate if you would listen to me and how I am feeling so I can work through this.”
Always, always, always keep in mind, that, for the most part, from what I found, everyone wants to be kind some people just don’t know how or need some fine tuning. So come from a place of understanding and give the other person positive intent unless they show you otherwise.
When handled effectively, feedback is a handy tool that we can use to achieve our goals, strengthen connections and build confidence. Make sure to follow the steps above and you will be on your way to effectively handling feedback! Remember, like with other things in life, new habits take time to build so just keep following the steps, and if you mess up, forgive yourself and try to do better next time.
PS: The review I was talking about in the beginning of this article, it was a 5 out of 5 star review. I was told I was a valued employee and given the highest raise possible. But still, I did not feel successful in my mission to connect sales and contracts. I was not given quality feedback and it was frustrating. Even more so because my frustration at roadblocks to achieving my goals was misinterpreted as defensiveness. Sometimes you are not going to get the feedback you need. Realize you can’t control that and continue on!