Is it me or is it you? How to take a balanced approach to feedback
Have you ever received a piece of feedback and its completely thrown you for days? All you can do is turn it over and over again in your mind, wondering, 'is that really me?'
Of the many things in life that cause self-doubt, feedback is one of the big ones. Feedback comes from many sources: our parent's praise/lack of; the way our peers treat/treated us; employee reviews; passing commentary on our capabilities/skills/characteristics. In today's world, we're constantly being judged and sized up. The result? Endless striving for the moving target of "perfection."
When I got my 360 review results for my job as a clinical supervisor, I skipped straight to the end where colleagues and supervisees were asked to leave commentary. I ignored the two packed pages with positive commentary and stared for an hour at the two negative pieces of feedback, feeling incredulous and horrible.
"Seems scattered at times"
Wait, what?! I'm so organized and type-A!
"Can come across as judgmental."
Judgmental!? That's terrible! Am I a horrible person?
I was frustrated. I began to feel like I couldn't make everyone happy and still be allowed to be a human being at the same time. That's when I realized I needed a feedback reality check.
Yes, trying to be all things to all people is an exhausting task that gets you... absolutely nowhere. So how can you tell when feedback is worth listening to and incorporating into self-change, or whether it's to be brushed aside ASAP?
First, you need to look at the source of the feedback.
Since I was in a managerial position, I had to understand that someone under me may have been particularly sensitive to the power differential; and therefore she experienced an interaction as judgmental, when in fact is is my job to assess and guide performance.
Take this additional example. A friend recently received some feedback about her daughter, Remy, from a neighboring mom. The mom said, "I didn't want to tell you but felt I should -- Maggie doesn't want to play with Remy anymore because she's too bossy." Of course, feeling a bit hurt and protective are the normal immediate emotional reactions, but my friend thanked this mother and proceeded to determine for herself how valid the feedback was and what to do about it. Soon after, my friend learned from another parent that Maggie herself had received feedback of being 'bossy' and that she was also highly directive in her own play dates; turns out that Maggie didn't want to play with Remy because she was equally strong-willed (aka 'bossy')! She wanted to be the alpha! My friend realized that taking into account the source of, and therefore reasons for, the feedback was a huge part in knowing how to manage her reaction to it.
Additionally, when considering feedback and determining whether it's worthy of an intervention, you need to take into account the frequency and consistency of the feedback.
My friend is an extremely self aware parent. She been observing Remy in play for some time and already knew that her daughter had a directive nature. But then she began to invite more feedback from teachers and other parents. Doing this allowed her to gauge the strength and validity of the feedback: after hearing a few more pieces of similar feedback she knows it's important and is beginning to think about ways to channel Remy's behavior as productively as possible.
If every six months your employee review reports that you often monopolize meetings, consider it accurate and begin to think about whether or not its important enough to you to make a change. If my 360 review noted multiple times that I was "scattered" or "judgmental" I should be taking taking a hard look at those attributes. Since it had been the first time I'd heard myself described with those words, I understood them to be one person's experience of me and not a catalyst for a personal overhaul. Of course, negative feedback always strikes hard. Its normal to mentally refer back to that negative feedback as you carry on (and I did!). But I didn't need to institute a major plan to fix my scattered-judgemental-ness that isn't experienced by anyone else I worked with. Make sense?
Likewise, we need to be able to take consistently positive feedback to heart.
My reviews over the years have always said the same thing; that I make my supervisees feel safe, capable, and motivated. I now believe those things to be very true about myself as a manager. Remy's mom has consistently heard and experienced her daughter to be thoughtful, loving, and highly sensitive to other's needs. Those things are 100% true of Remy.
So most importantly, if you're in the seat of giving feedback, whether as a parent, partner, or boss, stay as strengths based with others wherever and as often possible. Recognize and applaud other's positive attributes by pointing them out and providing concrete concrete evidence of them. I guarantee that with that type of feedback, you'll not only lift another person up, but will help them to grow permanently into those characteristics with amazing strength and intention.
In a world that can be problem-based, just remember when you receive feedback to consider: 1) the source; 2) how often you've heard it and from how many. Doing so will help you minimize meaningless feedback and know when to incorporate important feedback into lasting change.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Call (860) 339-6515 for your free initial 15-minute consultation.