When You Get Bad Feedback

Sometime it takes family to really push our buttons. I have a fourteen-year-old daughter who is a wonderful human being, yet she is a fourteen-year-old daughter. Don’t worry, I’ll live, but I’m not sure she will.

I joke, of course, but still when I asked her why she hasn’t taken the recycling out for the last week (sorry, when I ask her what’s holding her back from taking the recycling out the last week), and she starts making excuses, I feel my buttons getting a workout.Especially the big red “Daddy” button on my forehead. I really don’t want to hear why the recycling hasn’t been done. I just want to know when she is going to do it, or if I need to take her to bottle depot to get the bins in the garage emptied.

If you’re getting hints, feedback, or hostility from your boss about a missed deadline, project, or deliverable, the thing near the bottom of the list of what your boss wants to hear is why it didn’t get done. Please go back and read that sentence again, because it’s important. Even if your boss actually says: “Why didn’t you get me those numbers by noon like you said you would?”, they don’t want to know why you didn’t get them the numbers. They want to know

a) when you’re actually going to get them, and

b) if you can’t get the numbers what you need from them, if anything. And maybe next time maybe give them more warning, ok?,

Yet sometimes even our bosses have a bad day, and the feedback they’re giving us isn’t especially helpful or clear. Or they aren’t very good communicators. Or they’re just a shouty, stabby kind of boss who’s constructive criticism isn’t all that constructive. There are a couple of things we can do. And yes, getting yelled at is a form of (bad but still useful) feedback.

First, watch your own emotions. It’s easy to get carried away by somebody else’s excitement, disappointment, or anger. Take a deep breath if you have to, then:

1) Ask yourself if there’s anything you did or might have done that contributed to their current state. Maybe they’re wrong, maybe they’re not.

2) Ask yourself what would make a reasonable person behave that way. Try to put yourself in their shoes, see things from their perspective. E-mail is notorious for flipping our intended meaning, since 90% of the emotional communication is missing from it. Be especially careful and non-confrontational in e-mail communications.

3) Ask yourself what is the right thing to do now. Maybe you can fix this, maybe you need to apologize, maybe you need to come up with a way that this situation won’t happen again. Maybe some of the above, or all the above.

What you’re trying to come away with is two things: you want to keep the relationship intact if possible, and you want to come away with whatever it is you might need to improve.

We hate hearing that we’re not doing things as well as we should, or that we need to do things differently in the future. Giving feedback is just as uncomfortable. The person giving feedback, whether it’s a subordinate, peer, or manager wants the same things we do: to preserve the relationship, and to improve performance.

The person giving feedback may not alway be sure how the recipient is going to react. They may have had bad experiences in the past either getting or giving feedback, just like you. They might not especially like confrontation and are better at trying to avoid it. Yes, this is a manager’s job, but that’s another blog posting.

So when we are getting feedback, it’s up to us to listen to decide for ourselves if there’s any value in what’s being said. Remember the person giving you feedback is extending themselves. They are trying to do you a favour even if it doesn’t feel like it. Only a true friend will tell you when you have spinach stuck in your teeth, but in the end you’ll be happy that they did.


4 responses to “When You Get Bad Feedback

  1. Pingback: When Your Feedback Gets Pushback « Practical Managers

  2. Pingback: How to Give Corrective Feedback | Practical Managers

  3. Pingback: How to Give Positive Feedback | Practical Managers

  4. Pingback: How to Give Positive Feedback | Practical Managers

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