Think about a time when someone you respected told you that you had certain strengths but also specific areas where he or she thought you needed to develop. How did you receive this feedback?
Were you defensive? “Who is she to tell me what I do well and where I need to improve? I’m doing the best I can with all the others things I have to do.”
Did you summarily reject it? Perhaps you have fixed ideas about your abilities and will not accept any evaluation of yourself or your work unless it comes from you. Perhaps you are in denial about what needs development.
Maybe you were perplexed: “What does he mean I don’t listen carefully? I never interrupt….”
Or, perhaps, it was an “aha” moment for you. The timing was right—the strength mentioned was something you had wanted to leverage, the development challenge noted was exactly what was holding you back. “This is really what I needed to hear right now. Now I know where I need to focus my efforts to grow.”
In most of our work (and personal) relationships people typically are not that direct in telling us how well they think we are doing in a particular area. They may hint or beat around the bush. Or, they may avoid giving an opinion at all, especially when we do not ask for it.
The corporate world where we work as executive consultants is rich in feedback. Leaders regularly receive performance input and based on this, they create development plans to improve their effectiveness. As coaches and assessors, we, too, receive feedback on our performance. To a great extent, we welcome it, even if it initially takes us out of our comfort zone.
We view feedback as a gift. If we are open and ready to receive it, feedback helps us grow. Integrating feedback can be important in developing our capabilities as well as helping shape the important life or career directions to which we aspire.
However, for those of you who don’t receive feedback as a regular part of your lives, what exactly is feedback? To answer this, we’ll include some of the misconceptions people often have about feedback by noting what it is not.
Feedback is not about…
- weaknesses. It is not about pointing out a deficit (which can come across as criticism and/or result in lowering morale). Rather, feedback is about highlighting a performance gap that presents a developmental opportunity; that is, an area where we want to grow and where we can make significant progress. Feedback is also about revealing where we may be underusing our strengths; e.g., we may be limiting our potential in a job that is tactical by not engaging our strengths in strategic thinking.
- how we see ourselves. Rather, feedback is about how others see us. Consequently, others’ perceptions of us become the basis for our growth or change. If others view us as distant and cold in our relationships, then this is the impact we are having on others and this is what needs to change. If in our hearts we know we are very loving and accepting of others, then we need to change the way we relate to others so that others also see us that way.
- people telling us what to do. As consultants we don’t go around telling people what to do about their development challenges. Rather, people decide for themselves what changes they need and want to make based on the data we collect (e.g., co-worker assessments, personality tests). These data, once analyzed and synthesized, reveal consistent patterns of behavior for that individual. What drives people to change their behavioral patterns is a big desire or inspiration to grow; e.g., to have greater influence in higher levels of the organization by developing a more effective communication style.
Again, feedback is a gift. Its value lies in:
- Recognizing a developmental challenge or underused strength as an opportunity to grow.
- Aligning our perception of ourselves with how others see us.
- Using the feedback about developmental gaps (and strengths) to make us more effective individuals or leaders.
Where do you need honest feedback in this period of your life?
What value would this feedback be to you and how would you use it?
Who do you trust to give you the most productive feedback?