Receiving constructive feedback with class

It’s that time of year again where a lot of us are thinking about our – shudder – end of year performance review. I have mixed feelings about them but I agree with the principle of them; it’s always good to look back and assess what you did well and what you could have done better, and how this feeds into the steps you’re going to take to improve from here on. I reckon 12 months is quite a long time to assess your performance. What might have started off as a naff beginning could end on a great high but as a whole, you receive an average marking or rating.

But in this article I want to explore how we can receive feedback with grace. As part of your review, you might be using the 360 approach – asking for feedback from your peers, management chain and stakeholders. This is a great opportunity to receive feedback from those you’ve actually worked with, who have seen you perform and felt the effects of your efforts. If you did a fab job, excellent! Keep it up!

If you receive ‘negative’ feedback (i.e. feedback that isn’t good which can also be referred to as constructive feedback) it might feel like a bit of a blow. Please don’t be disheartened – I wouldn’t say I enjoy getting this feedback, but as someone who’s proactive with his development, I find it really useful as a starting point for my developmental activities for the coming year.

However disgruntled you get, just remember to take this feedback with grace and a bit of maturity. How you react will be noted by your peers and managers; react defensively or argumentatively, you’ll be seen as someone who thinks they don’t ever need to improve and are a bit precious. By all means speak up if you genuinely disagree with feedback if you have solid evidence but just try not to make it a ‘who gets the last word’ sort of thing. That’s playground stuff right there.

Most people, like me, struggle to give constructive feedback; it feels incredibly uncomfortable, but less uncomfortable than the feeling of being insincere or two-faced by giving a glowing feedback when it’s a blatant lie. So another no-no is bad-mouthing that person to your friends at work (or worse – on social media!). This lacks any sort of decency, maturity or respect. They begin to avoid the feedback-giver, call them names and all the sort of stuff you’d expect from a 5 year old. Not cool.

So, that’s how you shouldn’t take feedback – but what should you do when you receive feedback you don’t like? I list the next steps below:

  • (genuinely) thank them for it. Remember that most people find giving negative feedback extremely difficult so it may have taken them a lot of courage to say this, especially if you work closely with them on a day to day basis. Ease the tension and awkwardness by thanking them for it and how you’re going to take it forward
  • take time to process it. Your immediate response will be upset, devastation, hurt and all that horrible stuff. Acting on this now will bring these feelings to the forefront. Instead, sit on it and let it digest for at least 24 hours
  • examine the feedback: why have they said this? What behaviours did you demonstrate for them to think like this? What skills were you lacking?
  • ask yourself, in all honesty, if you recognised the feedback in yourself before but turned a blind eye to it. If you suspected a project went badly, or you didn’t act in a way that you should have and hoped that nobody noticed, then this feedback might be shining a light on it and you need to accept it
  • which means you need to act on it. If you know why they’ve said this because you either recognise it in yourself or you traced back the sequence of events that led to their thinking of you in that way, ask yourself what you need to do better to not repeat that. Explore ways to improve a skill, as an example, and discuss the feedback with your manager. This might be difficult as you’re showing them that you’re not performing as well as they thought you were, but whether they see this themselves in you or not, they should help you explore opportunities to develop these skills and behaviours
  • add your next steps to your CPD. This will keep you on track to improving, especially if you make a habit of keeping your CPD in check (I wrote how you can do this here). But it will also mean you can determine if there are any extracurricular activities you can do outside of work that will you develop
  • continue working with them. Not only will this show them that you took the feedback with grace and the way in which it was intended, but you’ll also have a chance to demonstrate your improvement in front of them, which leads to the final point
  • ask them for feedback again next year/time. This will show you have the maturity to not let something like constructive peer feedback get in the way of two professionals. Having asked them before, they’ve also given you a benchmark to which they should be able to see a measurable, at least, comparative improvement.

As avid doers we need this sort of feedback from our peers so we can continue to develop. What might be painful now might be the very turning point that helps you strengthen your skills and go on to be generally awesome. Just keep it classy.