Friday 3 April 2009

Bent out of shape

How well do you take feedback?

For many, getting feedback on areas they need to improve can be crushing.

But if you want to go far, you must see it positively.

Feedback is your number one opportunity to develop.

Over the years, there have been [many] occasions when I have not met expectations, when I’ve dropped plates, when I’ve let people down. And in each case, I have endured embarrassing meetings with bosses – and not every boss has communicated constructively. (Although my current boss, with whom I had to endure one such meeting a year ago, handled it very well.)

However, in each case I have managed to coach myself through, and to take the feedback onboard. And I have grown.

The F word
Why do people avoid or deflect feedback? Clearly, factors such as poor self-esteem, low confidence and being unable to deal with conflict have a powerful effect.

But perhaps the biggest single force in getting those defensive barriers up is fear.

Fear you’ll be exposed as a fake. Fear you’ll be cornered. Fear you’ll be rejected.

In Tribes, Seth Godin argues that people are afraid of blame and criticism. He asserts that when people are not remarkable it is because they are afraid of criticism first and foremost.

If you’ve seen a colleague criticised by your boss, the fear sets in. Fear of criticism is a powerful deterrent and it doesn’t even have to happen for its effects to set in.

Now if you are in a position of leadership, you need to take this to heart: criticism stifles creativity.

There is criticism and there is feedback
A nagging, grinding negative voice puts a damper on anything. Mood hoovers can bring a team down … but leaders can be mood hoovers too, and they need to recognise that to be really good they must develop good feedback techniques.

Feedback, in contrast to criticism, can be the thing that turns someone’s whole career around.

Ten or fifteen years ago I worked with an analyst who needed to improve in some areas. Very bright, he was held back by certain weaknesses. Luckily for him, we had a great boss who gave honest and direct feedback (sometimes humorous too, like the time he got a flannel he'd bought specially for such an occasion out of his desk drawer and handed it to me, when I was dodging a question). The clincher for this analyst, however, was that he took the feedback onboard.

He is now Chief Marketing Officer for a global consumer brand.

To paraphrase Godin again, the only thing holding you back is your own fear. In every organisation, people rise to the level at which they become paralysed by fear.

The essence of leadership, he says, is being aware of your fear … and seeing it in the people you wish to lead. No, it won’t go away, but awareness is the key to making progress.

Self-awareness. Now there’s a big topic.

I liken it to sitting on your own shoulder, the whole day, watching yourself in each interaction, checking your reactions, gauging how you’re coming across to others.

Perhaps self-awareness goes hand in hand with being able to take feedback on board.

Without it, you react defensively. You even react aggressively, doing anything to deflect the comments. I saw this not long ago and it distressed me to see great talent wasted because the individual couldn’t take the feedback and admit they’d made a mistake.

How about you? Do you take feedback onboard … or do you get bent out of shape?

1 comment:

Kimberley MacKenzie said...

How very timely. You are right. Feedback is a gift - a painful gift. My experience has been that it is the people who care about our professional development most that share feedback. People who don't care won't bother.

That moment when your receive constructive (or not so constructive) is so important. Our reaction to it is key. Thank you is usually most appropriate.