Different work environments, and individual managerial styles from different managers, totally impact the experience of receiving feedback.
The other determinant of the experience is how you are able to handle the very difficult experience of being told you’ve messed something up.
Obviously there’s all sorts of levels and qualities of “feedback” from the innocuous “Attaboy! You did great!” type comments that often comes after delivering a presentation to a group of people, to the “Mike? Can you come to my office for a minute? I have something I need to talk about” type feedback that sends chills up the spine and gets the heart racing.
If you’re taking our advice from last week seriously and already sweating bullets about the very idea of it, we’ve got some hints and tips to consider as you embark on this significant and possibly kinda scary endeavor.
Not all of these tips will be relevant for each person or every situation. It’s a starting point. This is all in that category of knowing yourself and understanding how you react to things, and then planning accordingly.
If you’re working with a mental health counselor, this can be a great topic to bring up with them, to explore your own individual makeup and wiring and what might be contributing into your exact personality structure and how you deal with stressful things like this.
Because in many cases, it is seriously stressful!!!
That’s because you’re putting yourself out there. You’re making yourself vulnerable.
Or, if your boss pings you unexpectedly, then that’s a different story. Unexpected feedback — which is coming in the form of a critique or your actions or calling attention to some part of your performance that’s not up to snuff in your manager’s eyes — this is tough stuff.
If you’re trying to lean into a project of self-improvement, then one way to be a better feedback-receiver is to try and architect the situation wherein which you will be receiving the feedback.
If you’re in a job where you’re seeing people in person again, or if your company is having people come into the office for meetings already (few are doing so but we’ve heard of a handful; our opinion is that it’s still too soon but whatever), then some people may prefer doing this in person.
However, for other people, this type of session done on Zoom actually can feel a tad safer. You’ve got a screen between you. It maybe is less intimidating.
Which environment would work better for you?
If you have complete control over it, because you initiated the whole process, then even doing it outside, on the patio of your local Starbucks or sitting on a bench in that park across from the office — a neutral zone. Where you’re not sitting in your boss’s office, and not in the fishbowl conference room where everyone walking down the hall can see you there shaking in your booties.
Make sure to give your manager enough time to prepare too. You’ll be much more likely to get fair, actionable feedback if you don’t spring the request on them. In addition, you can come into it with a list of areas you already know you need to improve, and be ready to talk about efforts you’re already making. (Just make sure you don’t get defensive: Don’t use it as a shield or make excuses with your “But I’m already doing that” list. The trick to receiving feedback is to actually receive it. Rather than deflecting or arguing.)
Another very important perspective to take is that your boss is giving you their opinion. Just because they say it does not mean it’s 100% true. In the moment, when you’re hearing the feedback, you’ll want to fight the urge to defend yourself. In the moment, staying quiet may be best. You could even take a few notes, so you can get down some of the exact words and phrases they use. The best response is to ask for an example, if all they’ve given is a blanket statement of something you don’t do well enough.
This is likely to trigger all sorts of feelings of discomfort, so we’ll offer this handy diagram:
When we feel criticized, for most of us, we either go into an activation state of “fight or flight” or we shut down and disengage in the “freeze” state. These are physiological processes that take us over and prevent us from thinking straight. They are defenses that the body uses to protect us, but we’re not at our best in terms of how we show up for others. You may feel like the room is closing in, with tunnel vision, or you have trouble forming clear sentences. The best antidote to this in the moment is to BREATHE. Focus on the here-and-now. Breathing can get you more grounded, and help you to regulate these biological processes that can interfere with clear thinking.
If you’ve got your pen and paper, then this is where you want to try taking down those notes. It may be hard to remember later on what was said if you get activated.
If you’re getting feedback in writing, like your performance evaluation sent to you in email, then please, do not act right away! Do not whip out an email reply for at least 24 hours. (Same thing with getting feedback on essays from EssaySnark, by the way!!! You’re likely to be in your feelings too much initially, and not quite able to hear what’s being offered!)
Some people are so tightly wound that this experience is always really difficult.
Even for those who are trying to work at the highest levels in self-reflection and personal improvement will still likely have challenges with feedback.
It all depends on the context — and on the relationship with the feedback giver.
If your boss is an a##hole then it’s not likely you’re going to volunteer for this with them.
Or if your boss is so conflict-adverse that they cannot tell you to your face where you need to improve, then it may not be a very useful exercise for you from a practical perspective of gathering useful self-intel.
It’s pretty darned rare that people actively seek out this type of information on themselves.
If you’re serious about the journey of improving yourself as a leader and want to be better in all aspects of life, then this type of (admittedly grueling) project can pay off tremendously.
Not for the faint of heart though. It needs to be done with a trusted source, and you need to go into it from a position of inner stability or you risk letting it derail you or making you feel unhelpfully unmoored.
Perhaps the hardest tasks of all in living a good life involve self-mastery and being willing to deal with emotional experiences as they come.
If that’s something you’re interested in, your life won’t necessarily be easy, but you’re likely to have an uncommonly fine life in the end.