My “Bad” Feedback
I remember the first time that feedback got my attention. It didn’t get enough attention, but I kept thinking about it—for a really long time. My mentor told me, “Well, you didn’t get where you are on your looks or your charm, but on your hard work.” I took it as a compliment. And it was, but there was a message underneath that I ignored. The next time that I got feedback that I should have paid more attention to was a couple of years later, when my CEO said, “You should smile more.” My reaction was that smiling or not smiling didn’t affect the quality of my work—which in my opinion was quite good. Let me run that by you again. My CEO told me that I should smile more and I felt completely justified in totally ignoring his feedback. Not only could I not see the connection between the quality of my work and how I came across to people (by not smiling), I didn’t even get how ridiculous it was that I was ignoring feedback from my CEO! Looking back on it, I’m surprised he didn’t fire me on the spot.
Even More “Bad” Feedback
My company had a process that it called “New Manager Assimilation,” that was an onboarding process for new managers. I moved around the organization quite a bit (usually being selected to go “fix” an organization with process redesign and continuous improvement), and therefore, I went through new Manager Assimilation several times. I got the same feedback, over and over. My new employees had difficulty reading me and wanted to know more of what was going through my head. Again, my reaction was that it wasn’t necessary for them to “read” me. From my perspective, what they saw was what they got. I told them that I had 2 speeds: neutral or pissed. It was clear when I pissed, so they could assume if I wasn’t then everything was OK. I really thought I was providing them helpful information about me. In one of my organizations, my direct reports got together and gave me the top knob on a gear shift and told me that they wanted more speeds. I FINALLY got it. My failure to be openly expressive made it difficult to work for me. What was going on in my head was so different from that. Everything was OK. I wasn’t mad or unhappy unless I expressed that. What was in my head didn’t count AT ALL. People needed me to smile and have open expressions to be comfortable around me. People assumed the worse when they couldn’t read me.
I heard variations on a theme—lack of charm, smile more, unreadable—repeatedly. I discounted it. I didn’t believe it. I looked at it from inside my head—from my perspective—rather than from the perspective of the people who were giving it. So I didn’t act on it, until they got my attention with a symbol. Once I “got” it, I started acting on it immediately. It took me a long time, but I finally figured out how to be more openly expressive. And my job got a lot easier. I became much more effective. I got promotions (and raises :-)).
Chances are really good that you’ve gotten feedback that is equally important. Chances are that you discounted it the way I did. “It doesn’t really matter.” “It isn’t important in getting my job done.” OR “I couldn’t get my job done if I weren’t like that/didn’t do that. You may think that the people who count don’t think that or that the good things you do outweigh the negatives. This last is probably true. Until it isn’t true. At a certain point in your career, the things that have been tolerated become too important/irritating/in-the-way to be tolerated any longer.
This feedback is a gift. Do yourself a favor. “Get” that it is a gift earlier than I did. Remember that the perception of others regarding your performance is probably more important (and probably more accurate) than your own opinion. Sure you have to be confident and believe in yourself. BUT you also have to be open to feedback and able to change your behavior to be more effective.
What Do You Do?
First, think about the patterns. What have you heard repeatedly? Think about why it keeps coming up. Think also about what your reaction is to the feedback. If you blow it off or make excuses about it, pay especially close attention to that.
Second, think about what you would do if it is accurate and you need to change. Even if you don’t think it’s important or accurate—what would you do. What would you change? How would you change? Try little changes (they’re easier). Experiment.
Finally, get more feedback. Ask people you trust about their opinion. Don’t ask them if it’s important or right; ask them if they can see why people say what they do. Have them explain it to you. DO NOT ARGUE!!! Feedback is a GIFT! When someone gives you a gift you don’t tell them why blue is the wrong color. You thank them. Ask questions. Make yourself pay attention and stop thinking about why it’s wrong.
Then go away and think about it. Repeat the second step above. Then repeat again.