Receiving and acting on feedback is incredibly important for your professional growth because it helps you learn things about yourself that you might not be able to see. But what do you do if the feedback you receive is off base, too general, or just wrong?
Let’s answer this question by first determining why feedback is important.
The Johari Window (shown below) is a leadership technique developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingram that describes things about you that are known or unknown to yourself and others. In the “open area” are things known to both you and others. The “hidden area,” or what is sometimes called “the mask,” includes things that are known to you but not others. We all have things we hide from others, whether it be for our own protection, fear of embarrassment, or any other reason. Feedback is most relevant to the “blind spot,” things that are known to others but not to yourself, because it enables you to learn more about how others perceive you and your actions.
We all have blind spots, and it is important for all of us to work to reduce our blind spots so we can see more of the larger picture. Learning more about your blind spots can can help you develop your emotional intelligence and improve your self-management and social awareness.
That is why feedback is critical to your professional growth. But this requires the feedback to be actionable and specific to you. What happens if the feedback you receive isn’t any of those things?
As you most likely will receive feedback from a supervisor or manager, how you react to feedback–particularly bad feedback–is critical to managing your relationships and others’ perceptions of you. Here are a few steps you can use to help accept unhelpful feedback, maintain your relationships, and get to feedback that is helpful.
- Say thank you and accept the feedback. A good rule of thumb when responding to any feedback is to say “thank you.” Yes, even if the feedback is unhelpful, too general, or you can’t act on it. It’s important to remember that the person providing the feedback is trying to help you, and it’s a pretty good rule of thumb to say “thank you” when someone helps you.
- Take notes and save your questions until a later date. Asking too many questions upon receiving feedback can come across as confrontational and combative. Even if the feedback is unhelpful or confusing, it’s best to accept the feedback, take notes on what’s said, and save your questions for a later date.
- Take some time to cool off from the feedback and schedule a future meeting with the feedback provider to follow up. Taking some time to process the feedback shows that you have self-control, are self-aware, and humble. Once you cool down from the initial emotion, schedule a follow-up meeting a few weeks away. Between the scheduling and the meeting, take the time to process the feedback and write down follow-up questions.
- In the follow-up meeting, maintain your humility, and continue to show your gratitude. Telling a feedback provider that they’re wrong or that the feedback is incorrect isn’t going to help. Instead, focus your questions on getting your feedback provider to explain the specific situation, behavior, and impact your actions had. Ask how they would have acted in a similar situation and follow up with appropriate questions. Your feedback providers might not be right, but your interest in seeing how other people handle situations shows your willingness to learn and grow.
- Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, but do so with caution. For example, let’s say you receive feedback that you need to work on your leadership skills and are told take a particular leadership course, but you’ve already taken that course. Directly calling out the feedback provider’s mistake isn’t likely to go well for you, so instead, ask why they thought that course was right for you and perhaps recall something you learned in the course in the ensuing discussion. Eventually, the feedback provider will (hopefully) notice the mistake and retract the recommendation and come back with something more useful.
- Remember that your reputation, not the feedback provider’s, is on the line. As mentioned above, it’s almost certain that the person providing you feedback is of a higher grade, rank, or position than you are. It is critical that you are gracious in accepting any feedback (no matter how bad or unhelpful it is), as how you handle it will reflect far more on you than on the feedback provider. The story of “Johnny blew up at me when I was giving him feedback” travels much farther than “Sammy gave me really bad feedback.” Maintain your humility and think of the bigger picture.
Remember that feedback is critical to your growth, development, and success, as it helps you reduce your blind spot so you can learn more about yourself. Graciously accept it, no matter who it comes from. If it’s actionable and specific to you, that’s fantastic. If it’s not, follow these steps above to maintain your humility and reputation in your workplace.
Let us know what you think. How have you responded to unhelpful feedback or feedback that was just plain wrong? What steps have you taken?