Being able to learn from our mistakes and move on with newfound perspective and knowledge is vital for personal and professional growth. Similarly, constructive feedback can be especially helpful for understanding areas where you need to improve. But we often ignore the other side of this coin: learning from our successes, and from positive feedback. Instead of just chalking those up to good luck or being at the right place at the right time, we should learn to embrace our wins and use them as a roadmap for future success, just as we do our missteps. Here are three ways we can do that:
Believe and utilize positive feedback
Picture this: You’re in a meeting with your manager, and she lets you know about three of your projects that are going well, and one that needs improvement. You, like most people, are more likely to hone in on the negative feedback, perhaps even tuning out the positive feedback because you were so focused on taking in all the ways you could do your job better. This makes sense: Research shows that critical feedback can at times be jarring, so it makes sense that it’s memorable. But as memorable as it may be, unless it’s delivered with compassionate directness (learn how to do that here), it might not be that effective.
Other research has demonstrated that as employees, we typically respond well to positive feedback about our strengths and contributions. However, as the Harvard Business Review points out, soaking in that positive feedback can also make us feel uncomfortable or immodest, so mindfully absorbing this type of information can take practice, just as absorbing negative feedback can. To assist you in the process, create a space (either digital or physical) to collect any positive feedback you receive, including thank you notes, references to your work in email threads, and comments on evaluations. This way, you’ll have them ready as a handy reference when you need to look back and figure out how you achieved success, and to remind yourself of strengths you may not have been aware of previously. Now that you have your repository of awesomeness, schedule time to revisit and review it on a regular basis — each time, trying to identify any patterns or themes in your successful work.
What if your manager and colleagues aren’t as forthcoming with feedback? Then it’s your responsibility to step in and ask questions. For starters, ask for feedback if you’re not getting it already. Do know that this means you’ll likely receive some constructive feedback along with the positive stuff, but both are equally helpful for you to learn and grow.
Second, don’t be afraid to follow up with additional questions to help you better understand exactly what you did that worked. As the Harvard Business Review points out, we often brush off compliments because we’re not comfortable receiving them. Instead, we need to reframe how we think about praise to focus on the learning aspect (and sure, if it makes you feel good, it’s a bonus!). If the positive feedback you received was vague, try and get the person giving it to unpack it a bit so you have more specific information to take away. Not sure how to do that? Try saying, “Thank you for noticing X; your feedback made my day! Could you tell me what about my actions seemed to have a specific impact on you? I am trying to figure out what my strengths are so I can continue to make a positive impact at work.”
Far too often, we wait for other people to tell us about ourselves, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Feel empowered to engage in self-reflection and review. Though it’s human nature to replay failures over and over in our heads, we should really be paying equal attention to our wins. Both are profoundly instructive.
If you’re having trouble thinking of times when you’ve prevailed, start writing them down. Keep a journal or running list of things you’ve done right, or are proud of, or times when you’ve solved a difficult problem. And like your archive of positive feedback from others, make sure to revisit this list regularly to identify behavior patterns and strategies that work for you. This way, you can learn as much from your successes as you do from your mistakes.
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