Training the Vine: How to Get Positive Feedback at Work
- Monday, May 11, 2009
That’s when Connie decided to coach the coach. “I flipped the process over completely,” she told me. “I asked my manager the questions I needed her to ask of me. For example, she wasn’t thinking about how I could become more valuable to the organization, so I asked her that question. I also asked her to think about my future with the organization—what I could be doing to prepare for my next steps.”
Asking strategic questions put Connie in the driver’s seat with her feedback. “It definitely changed the scope of our conversations,” Connie says as she smiles broadly. “The questions I asked required my manager to think about me differently. At first, she didn’t have solid input for me, but over time the quality of the feedback improved.”
We’d like to think that people in management positions know how to give quality feedback. Unfortunately, that is not always true. Some managers are terrible at it or, at the very least, uncomfortable with it. We can’t afford to wait for them to figure it out.
Realizing that her manager was uncomfortable providing feedback was also an important clue for Connie. “I made it very safe for her to share her opinions and perspectives with me. Instead of waiting for her to break the ice, I did that for both of us.”
Connie’s process is actually brilliant. She found a way to manage her manager and her feedback. If you recognize Connie’s predicament, here is an outline of the steps she took to take control:
1. Ask strategic questions about how you can create more value in your current role and prepare for the future. (“What do you see as my greatest strengths, and how can I use them more often and more effectively?”)
2. Ask the questions you wish your coach were asking! (“What do you see as a next, natural step for me, and how can I prepare to take that step?”)
3. Find ways to open the dialogue and make feedback a more natural part of day-to-day communications. (“I want to make sure I am focusing on the top priorities. How can I have more of an impact on what is truly important?”)
As in Connie’s case, getting quality feedback is the first step. How you process the data is also critical. Feedback can build and strengthen you, or it can tear you up and tear you down. Here are seven things to keep in mind as you seek out and process feedback:
Separate yourself from the feedback. Depersonalize it. Remember, feedback is perception. It does not define who you are or what you are capable of. It simply reveals an impression. That’s a good thing, because impressions revealed can be managed. Consider the alternative. When it comes to feedback, ignorance is not bliss. What you don’t know can hurt you or, at the very least, hold you back.
Seek to understand the feedback. Whether you agree or disagree with the feedback you are receiving, make it your goal to understand. Resist every temptation to explain or justify. Instead, ask questions to clarify. Remember, agreement is not the goal. Understanding is.
Isolate the parts you can control. There may be things inside of feedback you cannot personally control. Acknowledge these, and focus your energy and responses on the things you can do something about.
Share your action plan. Honor feedback by letting people know what you plan to do with it. This may be as simple as, “I appreciate your perspective on this, and I will keep it in mind.” Or it may be a list of action items you plan to implement.
Take a break! If the feedback is particularly difficult or delivered in an awkward or ineffective way, you may need to step back. Have your script ready! You can say, “You’ve certainly given me something to think about. I’d like to do that before we discuss it further.”
Get a second opinion! If you receive feedback that is difficult to accept or out-of-the-ballpark different from feedback you’ve received in the past, consult a mentor. Ask for some help in processing the data to understand what it means and how to manage it productively.
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