Nobody likes to receive bad feedback. Why? Because it feels like conflict and we hate hearing that we’ve not done a perfect job.
What if I told you that the highest performers in any organization tend to turn the feedback process into a positive experience for the person delivering feedback, even if the feedback received is negative? Done correctly, it’s possible to leave your manager feeling you did a better job after the feedback conversation than they’d originally thought going into it.
The simple truth about feedback
Let’s dispel the illusion. EVERYONE receives bad feedback. Nobody is perfect. In a professional services career where you’re constantly learning, your managers aren’t expecting you to be perfect either.
Having said that, the feedback process is inherently subjective. While this can be frustrating at times, it also provides the opportunity for you to stack the deck in your favour. I find there are 4 very simple things that the high performers I coach do relating to feedback conversations that often leave me – as their manager – feeling a lot more positive about their performance than I might originally have been.
Fortunately, you can do all of these things too!
1. Be proactive
The highest performers are always hungry for feedback. They love hearing what they did well, but they’re even more interested in figuring out what they can do better.
This means that immediately after a project is concluded (sometimes during a project) I find these individuals scheduling time in my calendar to discuss feedback. This is a great sign that someone is going to be open to what I have to say.
It’s a natural tendency to procrastinate when you know that you might have some tough things to hear. Fight that tendency.
Make sure you are requesting comprehensive feedback as soon as your project concludes. This has the added benefit of helping you not to make the same mistakes on your next projects.
If I am stuck between two outcomes when grading an employee’s performance, I almost always award the better outcome if the person was able to identify their own development points.
The best way to prime yourself for a constructive feedback conversation is to do a proper self-assessment before the conversation.
Identify 2-3 things you’re particularly proud of on the job, and identify 2-3 things you feel you could have done better or that you would do differently if you had to start the project again. The trick here is to be brutally honest with yourself. You’re not helping anyone if you gloss over your mistakes. At the same time, however, don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s unlikely that your manager is going to be hyper-focused on the tiny mistakes you made. It’s more important that you focus on any major themes.
3. Listen with purpose
Once you’re in the conversation, it’s very easy to enter a defensive mindset. This leads to you not really hearing what’s being said or leads to you arguing. Neither of these things does you any favours.
Get rid of your defensive mindset and be ready to listen.
If you’ve done a proper self-assessment, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be hearing much you haven’t already thought of. If you do hear a feedback point you don’t agree with, ask the question: “could you give me an example of where you saw that happening?“
It sounds silly, but a lot of managers will deliver “gut feel” feedback (especially if it’s long after the project; see point 1 above) and don’t have any evidence to back up their claims. On more than one occasion I’ve had a manager of mine voluntarily rescind a feedback point if they couldn’t support it. Asking this question takes a lot of the subjectivity out of the feedback and opens your mind to different perspectives.
The highest performers that I manage are always eager to hear what they can do better. The conversation (and my perception of that person) are always better when this is the case
4. Immediately action
Its one thing hearing bad feedback. Doing anything with it is a completely different thing.
High performers action their feedback. They immediately turn key development points into personal objectives for future projects and hold themselves accountable.
I distinctly remember a feedback conversation in my first year at my firm after a long project. My manager – Dave – said, “Mark, you are doing great work and your peers look up to you but are you aware of your energy levels and demeanour in the room? You tend to be really negative about the job and this might compromise people’s perception of you over time.“
This hit me hard. Funnily enough, my team’s nickname for me was ‘Gramps’ (I was 23). Something which I thought was in jest suddenly made so much sense. I reflected on all the times I’d sat, slumped in my chair, sighing. I was mortified.
8 years later, this is still my number 1 personal objective on every single project I go onto. I strive to be the person that brings great energy and positivity to my teams. That single feedback conversation completely revolutionised my approach to work. Working with teams has become so much more rewarding as a result.
The best thing you can do for your career is to action bad feedback.
Feedback doesn’t need to be a negative experience
If you implement the above techniques when getting feedback, it can turn the process into a positive and rewarding experience for both you and your manager.
The worst thing you can do is pretend like you’re doing great when, in reality, you’re not. Sometimes faking it ’til you make it simply doesn’t work.
Go into the process with an open mind. You’re early in your career; be eager to learn and you’ll find that people’s perception of you increases dramatically.
Have you got a great Feedback story? Let me know in the comments!
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