Why Feedback Is A Gift That You Shouldn’t Ignore
Have you ever received advice you didn’t like and didn’t think was appropriate, relevant, or helpful? I certainly have. Sometimes it took me weeks, months, or longer to fully comprehend the value. Here are two examples that I didn’t appreciate initially but came to realize how key they were to my long-term business success. 7 March 2017, by Janet Wood.
“You should smile more.”
This advice, given to me quite early in my career, came as a complete surprise. I’d always considered myself a friendly and open person. My first reaction (in my inside voice) was to be insulted and wonder if my manager would give the same advice to a male colleague. To be fair, in addition to telling me I should smile more, he also said that I could be intimidating and those colleagues who didn’t know me only saw a serious person bent over her desk or determinedly walking around the office.
Once I could get beyond my initial frustration at what I’d first considered pretty sexist advice, I began to test his theory. I started saying “Hello!” (with a big, genuine smile on my face) as I walked (a little more slowly) around the office. It didn’t matter whether I knew the person or not… I decided I didn’t want to leave the impression that I was unfriendly when I knew that wasn’t the case. I realized how important it is to address people’s perceptions. We may think we’re friendly and approachable but, if people don’t see us that way, something’s clearly missing. That early advice continues to be key as my responsibilities grow and my successful leadership depends on my ability to engage others in meaningful ways.
Trust is the foundation of leadership, and, being open and friendly can accelerate relationships that result in significant benefits, including increased productivity, collaboration, and innovation – all of which have a positive impact on the top and bottom line.
“You are working away down here”
A second piece of advice that has literally made the difference between success and failure started out with this comment from my manager: “You are working away down here (picture hands waving frantically underneath a tabletop) and you need to be working up here (same hands waving above the tabletop where they can be seen).”
My first response to this feedback was devastating discouragement. This was my manager speaking; he knew what I was doing and had even said he was happy with my progress. I was never a “look at me and what I’ve done” self-promotion kind of person. I always felt my contribution would speak for itself. Again, I realized this was a misperception I needed to address.
One example my manager mentioned was that I was quiet on important global calls and the most senior leaders were wondering why I was included and what difference I was making. I realized only I knew that I was capturing actions and following up with individuals one-on-one after the call. I recognized I needed to make my contributions known in a productive way that also felt comfortable to me.
I decided to try the following: instead of making a note to myself and following up after the call with the individual, I would say during the call what I was going to do. It was as simple as that and felt authentic to me. Within a few months, my manager was congratulating me on my turnaround and the increased value I was bringing.
Although I knew that I wasn’t doing anything different, the difference now was that the group also knew what I was doing.
My biggest takeaway from this particular example, and something I mention to every person I mentor and every group with whom I speak, is this: never leave a meeting with people wondering why you were there. I especially make this point when speaking to women. Too often, at least in the technology sector, there are only one or two women in a meeting, and that can be intimidating. Women need to get beyond this intimidation and make sure our contributions are valued. I’m very thankful my manager had this difficult conversation with me. Without his insights, I have no doubt I would not have made the changes necessary and that eventually I would have been moved to another position without ever realizing what had happened.
Take time to let feedback sink in
So what can you do when you receive advice or feedback that you don’t agree with? What I’ve learned over the years is to not react immediately. Take time to let it sink in, talk to trusted friends or colleagues to get their perspective, and then act (or not).
Take a little more time to consider what might first seem like unhelpful feedback before rejecting it. If you trust the person giving you the feedback, you should never dismiss it out of hand. Even if you question the motivation of the person giving you the feedback, it doesn’t mean it isn’t valid…it just means you may want to run it by some friends or colleagues whom you do trust before deciding what to do.
The bottom line is that we all have blind spots and we should strive to be open about hearing about them and putting a plan in place to overcome them. None of us is perfect and all of us want to be the best we can be. With that in mind, it’s important to remember that all feedback is a gift. Sometimes it just takes time to realize how truly valuable it is.
Here’s some feedback you may get, but not appreciate: Is Personalization Killing Your Relationships With Customers?