Taking the Sting out of Feedback

Taking the Sting out of Feedback 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

One of the things that makes me laugh every time is when I hear someone (including myself) say that they “love getting feedback.”  The truth is, we hate getting feedback.  We love what feedback can do for us.  Feedback helps us get better.  But many times, that improvement is fueled by the pain of receiving the feedback and the hope of avoiding that feedback in the future.

For example, early in my career I worked for a recruiting agency.  Recruiting, at least at that level, was primarily a phone sales job.  So, everyday, we spend our entire day in an office, behind a desk, tied to a phone.  We rarely saw customers.  And yet, we were required to wear business professional clothing to work each day, including ties for the men.  I thought this was stupid.  In protest, I did everything to break the code that wasn’t technically out of dress code.  I wore cheap clothes that weren’t in the greatest shape.  I never buttoned the top button on my shirts and I often rolled up my sleeves on my shirt.  I wore my shabbiness as a protest to “the Man” and his stupid rules.

Then, one day, the owner of the company took me to lunch.  Over lunch, he told me how great of a job I was doing with my sales and how he noticed that I was a natural leader within the office.  He even said that they we thinking seriously about promoting me to manage a team.  But, then he dropped the bomb.  The words he said still ring in my ears.

“But, we can’t promote you because you look like a slob.”

Ouch.  He went on to tell me that in order for them to promote me to manager, I had to look like a manager.  I still hated the dress code.  And I thought it was silly that a promotion decision was being help up based on my clothing.  But, I learned a valuable lesson that day.  Perception may not always be fair, but it’s very real and you have to manage it.  The feedback was so painful that it left scar tissue in my brain that serves as a reminder to me every day.

As I reflect on this experience, the thing that is funny to me is that I’m pretty sure my wife has told me many times over the years that my clothing wasn’t up to par and that I needed to do something about it.  In fact, there was one point where she essentially changed out my entire casual wardrobe.  And yet, that lesson didn’t sting me nearly as much.  It still stuck with me (I dress better all the way around today), but not because of pain.  What’s the difference?

I tend to think that the difference is a foundation of love and trust.  My wife loves me and wants what’s best for me.  I trust her more than anything and anyone in the world.  So, when she gives me feedback, I never worry that it is impacting our relationship or that it has some ulterior motive.  I take is as what it is, her caring for me and wanting me to be my best self.

The same transfers to our children.  The most important thing I can do as a parent is to ensure that my kids know that they are loved unconditionally.  If I build that foundation, then when I have to scold them or discipline them, they never feel like their relationship with me is at risk.

So, how are we doing with this at work?  How do your employees take feedback from  you?  Do they get defensive?  Perhaps it’s because you haven’t established a foundation of love and trust with them first.  Obviously, I’m talking about a different kind of love that that of your spouse or children.  But, do they believe that you have their best interest at heart at all times?  Do they believe that your primary concern is caring for them?  If not, when you give them feedback, it can feel to them like your relationship with them is changing–that they are losing some status with you.

It’s an interesting question to ponder.  I know that some people are easier to love than others, but are we even making the effort?

  • Anne Perschel [email protected]

    Spot on Jason about love and trust being the balm on the sting of feedback. Why? Because we trust the person giving us feedback is acting in our best interest and holding us with love, trust and respect while doing so. They are there to help us be our best selves. This doesn't hurt. In fact it bolsters.

  • Neil Denny

    Good points. Yes. We do hate getting the feedback. Boy is it uncomfortable, but the learning within it can be so valuable.

    There is a real knack I think to being able to hear feedback without getting defensive. Or offensive for that matter.

    Best feedback advice I ever heard was to simply accept any feedback witha sincere "Thank you" regardless of whether you agree with it or not. The thank you quietens our need to rebut the bad stuff, giving us time to take it away and wonder to ourselves…

    "Regardless of whether this feedback is right or wrong, I wonder what might have led this person to that conclusion. And what am I able to do about that?"

  • Jason Lauritsen

    Trish – Everyone loves you, so I don't think you have anything to worry about.

    Anne – Thank you for the words of reinforcement. It's good to have someone who actually knows what they are talking about stop by and support my rantings. I appreciate it. 🙂

    Neil – Great observations. I've often coached people on the same tactic. "Thank you" is often the only way not to penalize or trivialize the feedback from someone courageous enough to give it to you. Plus, just the act of saying thank you validates that the feedback is important, regardless of whether it's totally constructive or not.

    Thanks for the comments.

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