I get a lot of critical feedback from my boss and I don't always know what to do with it or how to improve. Sometimes I don't even agree with the feedback. What should I do when I don't think the feedback is correct?
I like to look at feedback as a gift and approach it with an open mind. How I would approach this is:
1. Do some soul searching :) understanding your own communication style. How do you communicate? How do you like to be communicated to? What things help you stay open minded? What things make you shut down? What are your values?
2. Once you have that. Setup a meeting with your manager and thank them for being open to giving you feedback but that you are having a bit of trouble understanding how to apply. In this meeting, share with them what you learned about yourself around communication. THEN you want to ask them how they too, would like to receive feedback.
3. Now that you have built your foundation of trust. Pick a specific bit of feedback you were given and ask to do a deep dive. Remember to be open minded. Sometimes when we receive feedback, we over personalize when that was not the intent. Understand what is trying to be communicated and then work together to understand how it could have been better communicated.
4. At the end of the meeting, share how you are feeling about the session. Ask your manager to do the same.
5. At the end of every 1:1 with your manager, ask them for feedback. In the moment, offer feedback on how it is being delivered if you feel it is not matching what was previously discussed.
This is a fascinating one to investigate! The first thing I can say is that I understand your plight since I've been there before (probably on both sides) and I know it's not an enjoyable or enriching place to be.
In spite of this, receiving feedback from team members, cross-functional partners, and leaders is inevitable. When you change your perception of feedback and how you use it, it can become your superpower. If someone has positive intentions, they are giving you a gift by giving you feedback. Distinguishing intent is the tricky part.
There is a misunderstanding around feedback that I often encounter when I speak with people. There seems to be a widespread perception that a growth mindset requires you to accept all feedback and act on it without question. In reality, just as in human relationships, there is often much more complexity. Sometimes feedback is just the symptom you need to diagnose the real problem, and it might not even be related to the symptom at all.
Within an organization, people have a limited perspective. Our view of the world is colored by the tasks we are responsible for, the people we collaborate with, the subsets of company strategy we encounter, and many other factors. Feedback disconnects most often occur because of misunderstandings related to different perspectives or experiences within an organization. As an example, your manager might tell you that you aren't detail-oriented enough when in reality your project was much earlier in its progression and at this stage, you wouldn't expect to have all of the answers. As this example illustrates, there is a disconnect between a manager's expectations and how work is actually being undertaken by the team.
This kind of feedback does not necessarily indicate that someone is doing something wrong, but it does indicate a misalignment somewhere. Either a misalignment of values and working styles, processes, information, altitude visibility, or something else. What feedback that you don't agree with can give you is the opportunity to dig deeper.
Get curious, and take a step back (this may require stepping away from the issue for a few days). Then, when you're ready, have a conversation with your manager and ask them the following:
- What makes them believe what they believe? (You should ask for examples and data points.)
- Can they give you an example of how they think things should be done? (Find out what they would have done differently.)
- Don't hesitate to ask for clarification if something they say doesn't make sense to you.
It's uncomfortable, but a decent leader will lean in and help you close the understanding gap. It's important to keep a positive mindset here, being genuinely curious to understand will go a long way. As you ask questions, provide context as well. Talk to your leader if you have tried a suggestion and it didn't work out because of something your leader isn't aware of. Get their help and leverage their experience. Their job is to help you set priorities, remove roadblocks, and help you perform at your best. Be brave and ask for what you need/want.
Not all of these scenarios end well. Sometimes it's a sign that you and your manager do not share the same philosophy on getting work done. You won't be the first or last to experience this. This is a great way to evaluate the fit between yourself, your team, your organization, and your reporting structure.
This is a challenging one, as people's problems could be mentally draining and less exciting to deal with.
Tactically, I'd advise speaking with your HR business partner and seeking their advice by sharing specific examples.
Longer term, I'd suggest practicing radical candor with your manager. This process takes time & energy as you need to build trust. If you haven't yet, I suggest reading Radical Candor by Kim Scott.
Feedback, as they say, is a gift. Research bears this out, suggesting that it’s a key driver of performance and leadership effectiveness. Negative feedback in particular can be valuable because it allows us to monitor our performance and alerts us to important changes we need to make. But processing and acting on negative feedback is not always easy. It can make us defensive, angry, and self-conscious, which subsequently impairs our effectiveness.
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