How Fragile Are You? (The Art of Feedback)

Posted by on Jan 27, 2016 in Productivity | 1 comment

How Fragile Are You? (The Art of Feedback)

Do people give you feedback on how you are doing? Do you know whether your boss, co-workers, clients, and customers are thrilled or just tolerant of your contributions? If you don’t know, it may be because you appear just a tad too fragile when feedback has been offered in the past. Or more likely, because you don’t ask for it.

Receiving feedback is hard (and so is giving it, a topic for another day), but it is really critical to our ability to contribute, to make a difference, and to grow. And it doesn’t matter what we do.

Consider this quote from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

It is hard to have pride in your work if you do not know how you are doing, and that includes learning when you haven’t quite met expectations.

I have been sending clients an end of contract feedback form, and I was surprised recently at the response of one of the client responders for one of the deliverables. He rated the work as less than what was expected. I was surprised because I had asked for feedback throughout the process and was told that it was good to go. Fortunately, all the other deliverables were rated at or above meeting expectations. Without asking, however, I would have assumed that he was just fine with it – because that is how I had interpreted feedback along the way.

What he doesn’t know yet is that that isn’t acceptable to me. I will be contacting him next week to see what I can do to take the work that was completed (and already paid for) and bring it up to at least meeting expectations, if not more.

Believe me, I was upset at first. Not at the feedback per se (after all – I asked for it!) but that I had failed a client (at least on one part of the contract) and therefore myself, since I have great pride in my work. Had I not asked the question and been clear that I really wanted feedback, I would have no opportunity to leave a better impression, and no opportunity to learn what was missing so that does not occur with future clients. And I learned another lesson – feedback during the process does not necessarily mean someone is happy at the end.

Consider these tips for asking for feedback from others:

  • Ask consistently so that people know that you are sincere. Because people are so reluctant to give feedback, especially negative feedback, it may take a while for them to feel safe giving it.
  • Consider asking for feedback in writing (or in a form, like I did). Someone may be willing to write comments where she may be reluctant to look you in the eye to tell you something herself.
  • Make sure you are prepared to hear it. If you are particularly attached to an outcome, and are proud of your outcome, don’t expect someone else to share your “wow!” Other people might have had different expectations of the work to be done and will evaluate from that different place. If you are just looking for accolades or reinforcements, that’s not really asking for feedback.
  • Prepare your thoughts in advance of what you are going to “do” with that feedback. I once went through a 360 degree feedback assessment and because it was sponsored by someone, there was a required responder that I knew, based on past experience, would either rate very high or very low depending on her mood that day. Before I saw the outcome, I knew that I was going to pay more attention to the feedback of the many other people, and not be too inflated or deflated by how she rated me.

Some tips for receiving the feedback:

  • If you need time to process, take it. Someone giving you feedback (even if requested) does not require you to have an immediate response. Say thank you. Tell him that you will be thinking about his feedback, and if appropriate, let him know when you will get back to him. (And then do just that!)
  • Ask questions for clarification – but be careful that it is really for clarification. Sometimes we start asking questions that are really about deflecting blame, making excuses, or telling her why she’s wrong! Some questions to ask:
    • Can you provide me with a specific example?
    • What impact did that have on the team?
    • Is this something you regularly notice? Are there times when it is more evident than others to you?
    • What behavior would you want to replace it?
    • Were there any aspects of this that did work for you so that I don’t lose those moving forward?
  • Don’t explain away the feedback. The feedback is valid to her. If she asks you questions about details or motivations, certainly answer as directly as you can.
  • Take notes. (This also will serve to give you an outlet when hearing tougher news.) This will allow you to focus in on all the details when considering the feedback so that you don’t focus too negatively or too positively.

What to do following the feedback:

  • Give as much credibility to the good feedback as the negative. (This is also hard! Notice that I am not writing about an area that he rated better than expected that I was also surprised by!) Writing a list of the good and bad news received could help with this. If it was mostly bad news, however, then there is really work to do.
  • Only you can decide whether the feedback is valid or not. If someone told me that I am too tall, I could choose not to wear heels anymore, but short of that (pun intended!) there isn’t much I can do about it. If someone tells me she doesn’t like my jewelry choices, I can decide I just don’t care. If someone tells me that my work is not as expected – I can (and will) choose to accept that, and certainly consider it valid to him.
  • If you are going to accept the feedback – figure out what you are going to do about it! Is this something you can fix for the current person? Is it something you can do differently in the future? Is there something you need to learn or a process change you should make? How are you going to change? Because why ask for the feedback and validate it for yourself if it makes no difference in how you show up in the world?

What might be something that you could do today to open up the channels to receiving feedback so that you can be the best street sweeper, lawyer, teaching assistant, student, executive, consultant  or ______ that you can be?

I’d love to hear your stories on the negative and positive experiences you have had giving or receiving feedback.


Mary Beth

One Comment

  1. This is very helpful information. It is something that should be considered more often, because understanding feedback (constructive criticism?) is an essential facet of good communication.

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