Embracing Feedback as a Catalyst for Growth

Contributed by Renee Haralson

Negative feedback can hurt, it’s messy, and most of us lack a role model for how to constructively provide it. It’s no wonder that study after study show that managers are reluctant to give negative feedback. However, it is one of the most important catalysts for change and advancing one’s career.

More and more we must take control of our own development and that includes soliciting negative feedback; after all, the only person you can control is yourself. So, what can you do help your manager and colleagues feel safe providing this much-needed catalyst?

Formally Ask

Initiate your own 360 evaluation by asking 4-5 colleagues to provide candid feedback. Make it clear that you will be keeping their response confidential and that they are not the only person participating (there is safety in numbers). You could even go so far as to create a blind survey to provide greater anonymity. Keep it simple with only 2-3 open-ended questions.

Get Creative

If you’ve asked and still aren’t getting the feedback you need, it’s time to get creative. In her article “How to Solicit Negative Feedback When Your Manager Doesn’t Want to Give It”, Deborah Grayson Riegel shares tips for coming at it sideways or softening the request.

Start the Ball Rolling

Begin the conversation by giving yourself some negative feedback first. In the same manner that a self-deprecating joke can defuse tension, beginning with your own self-criticism signals that it is okay for the other person to critic.

Ask for Help

Reframe the request to make it about helping you reach a professional goal. Share that you want to improve in a specific area this year and ask for your manager’s help in determining the area. This shifts the focus to helping you keep a commitment.

Flip the Conversation

Instead of asking for feedback directly, ask what you can learn from them. This turns the conversation around and makes them think about themselves. It makes the request less threatening and is more likely they will share active changes you can make.

Keep it Small

Ask for “just one small thing” that you can change instead of a broad request for all negative feedback. Keeping it bite-sized signals to the person that you don’t need too much from them and makes it easier to respond.

Manage Your Reaction

Resist the urge to respond or justify yourself. This is about trying to change and Kristi Hedges’ article “How Are You Perceived at Work? Here’s an Exercise to Find Out” reminds us that the feedback you receive is “only as good as your ability to remain comfortable while receiving it.”

Give Them Permission to Write

Most managers feel that negative feedback should always be done in person, after all, it is a richer form of communication. However, when feedback is provided in writing it gives you a better opportunity to reflect and focus on the feedback itself, instead of focusing on managing your reaction. Give your manager permission to provide the feedback in writing and then follow up in person if you feel you need more clarification.

In an ideal world, our managers and leaders would provide us with timely and constructive feedback on a regular basis. However, the reality is that this important catalyst is often missing in career development. That doesn’t mean you must go without if you get creative and take steps to solicit the feedback you deserve.