The Truth about Workplace Feedback

 herc   September 11, 2018  Career Advice

The next time you receive feedback in the workplace consider this: To compete against the most educated and experienced professionals in higher ed, jobseekers need more than a good resume or CV – they need to have soft skills (and the references to back them up).

Your references should be able to share specific examples from a solid track record of building respect and rapport with your peers. Ironically, your best opportunity to build a glowing soft skills record is when you’re receiving tough feedback because you may have fallen short elsewhere. Every time you receive feedback in the workplace it’s an opportunity to strengthen your rapport while demonstrating true leadership potential.

Even if you are the kind of person who takes feedback in stride, we all get thrown off on occasion by workplace stress or specific individuals who might trigger non-productive responses. Developing a feedback frame-of-mind will help you get your mental footing so you can turn solicited or unsolicited feedback into a professional advantage. Consider the following tips for developing your feedback frame-of-mind:

It’s not about you

Believe it or not, many people are not completely comfortable giving coworkers feedback. Giving feedback may be seen as a risk of conflict that could damage a professional relationship. But people push through the discomfort of providing feedback because they are trying to communicate a need (though some people are more tactful than others). Often their need is simply to be heard or to have their experience of you validated – so how you respond to their feedback can help move the relationship forward or reinforce the belief that you are not listening.

A good way to hone in on the need being communicated is to remove yourself from the equation and remember the act of receiving feedback is not about defending yourself – it’s about hearing the person and understanding what they need from you to make your work together more successful. Whether you agree with the feedback or not is something best left for future consideration and discussion. Here are a few ways to demonstrate that you hear what the person is saying:

Practice open body language when listening. Crossed arms indicate you are closed to what the person is telling you.
Verbally and visually acknowledge the points the person is making by nodding or saying “I hear what you are saying.” Repeat back the points you think they are trying to make to ensure you are hearing them correctly.

Saying Thank You Shows More than Humility

Saying thank you is not only an acknowledgment that you respect someone’s opinion. It says you are open to thoughts and ideas other than your own, because you and your coworker share the mutual goal of your organization’s success. This builds an important component of professional trust and creates a bridge for moving forward together. When people give feedback they aren’t always sure how that feedback will be received and how it may affect the working relationship going forward. Sometimes this causes people to not voice feedback (especially to peers prone to defensive and angry responses), which builds resentment and damages the working relationship. So when you say thank you, you are telling a person that you are strong enough to receive uncomfortable feedback and not let your emotions interfere with collaborating and innovating together.

Accepting Feedback Shows Leadership Potential

The need to demonstrate leadership potential is no longer limited to corporate ladder-climbers. In today’s higher ed job market, leadership skills help set you apart from the competition. A good leader knows that everyone has room to improve at every point in their career. Listening to feedback and acknowledging room for improvement shows you can put the needs of the organization before your ego. It also shows you are forward-thinking and open to finding new ways to move yourself and the organization forward. Being aware of areas for improvement also ensures you don’t have personal blind spots keeping you from reaching your career goals. External feedback is such a critical source of information for professional growth that you should be actively looking for opportunities to open the door to receive feedback, not just waiting for it to fall in your lap.

The Email Advantage

Use email to your advantage and don’t fall into the trap of responding instantly. When you receive feedback via email, consider it an opportunity to get into your feedback frame-of-mind before responding. If possible, consider waiting 24 hours to respond. Email can lure you into cramming too much into the feedback interaction, such as defending yourself, offering alternate perspectives or pushing back with a little feedback of your own.

Follow the same rules as in-person feedback. Say thanks, reassure the person that you are hearing them and that you’ll carefully consider what they’ve said, and save everything else for a future conversation. If other people are cc’d on the email consider keeping them on the reply-all as you respond politely to the feedback and suggest a follow-up discussion offline to dive deeper into the details of the situation.

Accepting feedback is a muscle that is developed over time and has to be exercised. Don’t be hard on yourself if you receive seemingly negative feedback. It’s like the old saying about publicity—the only bad feedback is no feedback. Receiving any feedback—negative or positive—is an opportunity to strengthen rapport and to develop professional skills that are to your advantage in today’s job market.

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