I recently put myself out there and and did a voluntary 360 to learn more about my personal brand among friends, family and former co-workers. I have to admit, it was a little difficult getting the results. They weren’t terrible, but they were not what I expected; and unexpected feedback can feel very negative and very personal.
Many people dread their annual review for the very reason that they do not want to hear negative feedback — it’s hard to take it as anything but personal. But negative feedback is the key to your personal growth. As hard as it can be to hear, it does give you an honest picture of where you stand in the eyes of your boss and against your peers, and that tells you a lot about your chances of staying employed. In fact, getting negative feedback and acting on it appropriately can increase your chances of moving up. Crazy? No, especially when it is requested, because:
- When you request feedback, you show you care about your work. That’s a strong message.
- Asking demonstrates self-awareness and willingness to improve, which will set you apart from the majority of people (who would rather hide from the negative feedback).
- The conversation is less likely to be angry. Everyone likes to be asked for their opinion — it makes them feel respected. When you ask for feedback, a respected reviewer is more likely to be sensitive in their delivery.
- When the conversation isn’t angry, it can be constructive. You can talk about specific things you can do that will improve your performance.
- If it comes to the point where you boss says, “I don’t think this is working out,” you have an opportunity to proactively ask for their help to find something else.
Ok, so we might all agree philosophically that getting negative feedback can be a good thing. But, then, how do we overcome the way it makes us feel? I am a natural compartmentalizer (you know, the kind of person who can have a rational conversation with their boss, then go to the ladies room and have a cry); but even I’ve had times when negative feedback hit me very hard, and that is usually because it takes me by surprise. To increase the chances of having a constructive rational conversation, here are some things to do to prepare for it:
- Try to remember the context for the feedback. Your boss has a job to do, and s/he relies on your help to get it done. Negative feedback simply says, “I don’t think you are helping me right now.” That doesn’t mean you can’t help in the future, and this meeting is a chance to demonstrate that.
- Before the meeting, brainstorm the negative things that might come up. (Remember that department head you ticked off on that project?) Thinking through possible scenarios ahead of time will help you get adjusted to the idea that something negative will come up, so it is less likely to blindside you.
- Bring a “script” for discussing negative feedback. Even when you brainstorm what might happen, there is a chance that something may come out of the blue (like that department head never told YOU he was ticked, he just complained to your boss). When you feel like you’ve been kicked in the gut, having a written process to follow will help you have the conversation. I usually write the following in my folio before the meeting:
- What did I do (specifically)?
- What should I have done?
- Can I help fix it?
- Can I try again?
- If I can’t try again, what do you suggest?
- Do not get defensive (and you can write that in bold letters in your folio as well). Getting defensive will just turn the conversation angry, and then it won’t be constructive. Think of it like investigating your attic and finding you have termites. Bad news? Yes, but at least you found it before the roof collapsed.
- If you brainstormed some bad things and they don’t come up, consider asking about them. Yes, I know this sounds a bit like poking the bear, but your boss might be as uncomfortable delivering negative feedback as you are hearing it. Again, bringing it up yourself demonstrates self-awareness and a willingness to help your boss do his/her job. That’s a rockstar move.
- Write down at least 3 constructive things you can do going forward, and make sure to review them with your boss before you leave the room.
- Leave some time in your schedule after the meeting to process the new information. You don’t have to go to the bathroom and cry — take a walk, get a cup of coffee, meditate — give yourself a 15-20 minute time slot to just think about what you learned.
Asking for feedback is like taking a bull by the horns. After all, the feedback is already out there. Seeking it — especially the negative feedback — demonstrates that you are strong, self-aware and willing to grow to meet the needs of your boss and your job; and it puts you in control. Getting that negative feedback is the best thing for you.
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