When you get negative feedback from someone which of the following reactions do you have?
- I need to change what I’m doing. I’m not right in the eyes of this person.
- Crap. I need to get better at what I do.
- This feedback is just a suggestion. So before I take action, I’m going to think about what I heard.
- Maybe I should get a second opinion from another person I respect?
- This person is SO wrong. They don’t get what I was trying to do. I’m not doing what they’re saying I’m doing.
- I’m a failure.
I can think of situations where I’ve had every single reaction on this list. I’m sure you could add a couple more bullet points (and I’d probably check yes those reactions, too.) Negative feedback is sticky. It tends to be the only kind of feedback we remember.
Now, let’s flip this scene around for a second. This time, you’re the person giving negative feedback.
I’m pretty sure you’re using the “room for improvement” language and sometimes softening the blow by saying something positive first. I give all types of feedback to people all day every day. Maybe you’re giving this person feedback because they’re asking for it. Maybe you need to communicate a “must do” with them, or you want to share a suggestion. What you have to say might be news to the feedback receiver, or they’ve heard the same message somewhere before.
Regardless of the situation, I’m curious. What’s your intention for giving this feedback? You see, I have a theory.
From an early age, we’re taught that there’s a correct and an incorrect approach to any task, project, question or activity. So we end up feeling compelled to reinforce this right-or-wrong idea with feedback; both in how we give it and how we take it in.
Lesson 1: In primary school, teachers let you know that there’s a right and wrong answer.
Lesson 2: In High School and University—or sooner—you get a rubric explaining what you need to do to get an A. To keep things fair and transparent, the rules are pretty specific.
Lesson 3: Playing video games, you learn that the more you understand the patterns and rules, the higher you score, and the faster you advance.
Lesson 4: On social media, you find out that the more “likes” and comments you get on your post, the better they are.
Lesson 5: In today’s team-oriented work world, those who are playing by the rules get rewards (it’s even more important than winning the game.)
And on and on it goes. But this idea that there’s a definite right or wrong to everything, it’s not true, is it? In our crazy work world, we all know the answers aren’t so black and white.
Plus, if we’re really honest here, some of the people giving feedback aren’t always right, including me. So I want to propose something different.
I KEEP COMING BACK TO THE IDEA THAT FEEDBACK IS, AND SHOULD ALWAYS BE A CONVERSATION.
If you’re giving feedback, have a conversation. Share your intent, ask your recipient what they heard, and how they feel about what you’re saying. My assumption here is that your intent is good and your goal is to help the other person to improve. So don’t you want to make sure the feedback is received that way by turning it into a dialogue?
If you’re receiving feedback, have a conversation. Ask the person about their intent, ask if their feedback is a “must do” or if it’s a suggestion. Better yet, get a second opinion. My assumption here is you want to improve. And to improve a product, you know you want nuance and depth in the feedback right?
So if any of these ideas resonated and you want to take a new approach, great! If they don’t resonate, also great! Feel free to continue being your awesome self.
BECAUSE THIS IS THE KEY TO ALL IDEAS, SUGGESTIONS AND YES, FEEDBACK THAT’S BOTH AWESOME AND AWFUL AT THE SAME TIME—YOU GET TO CHOOSE HOW YOU RESPOND.
Yes, it’s true. You get to have the fun of choosing your response with virtually anything that comes your way.