The next two practices we look at are about gaining clarity about the context you operate in.
Part of being executive is using awareness of your context to shape what you are doing. Feedback is useful here. It helps you understand your context. Think of feedback as instructions on how to do well and succeed in the context you have chosen to spend time in.
Working skillfully with feedback involves knowing how: to get feedback, take from it what is valuable, contain it, and then move on instead of allowing criticism to send you into a downward spiral. One of the most damaging things that can happen if you don’t build skill at working with feedback is that you can let it harm your relationships with colleagues and also damage how you think about yourself.
Here are six techniques you can use to practice asking for feedback. These techniques, when used skillfully, make it easier to ask for feedback and to take in challenging feedback when it comes. Remember, asking for feedback is part of how you practice “being executive.”
1. Seek out feedback, especially balanced feedback. By doing so, you demonstrate you are serious about your career and your growth, and that you are committed to the organization. Also, you learn something about how you are showing up as opposed to just hearing more data that confirms your existing perspective.
2. If you get negative or surprising feedback that you were not expecting, look for and find the golden nugget. Instead of launching yourself head-first down a negative spiral (e.g., “you are such an idiot, you should be fired.”), ask what you can learn & how you can repair an impression. Consider these questions:
- Is there any value in the criticism?
- Are any aspects of the criticism helpful?
- Are any elements of the criticism useful as you work with this person going forward?
- What percentage of the comment might be true? Is it possible that it is 5% true (or true 5% of the time)? Continue to move the scale toward 100% to assess its potential value.
3. Don’t forget about the things that have gone well. Give yourself a quick pep talk. Take a step back and look at the big picture.
- What have you done well in the last six months?
- Is it realistic to expect that no mistakes will be made?
- Have any of your heroes or role models ever made mistakes?
4. Consider the source as you determine how and what there is to learn from the feedback. Who is the source of this feedback and what is their credibility around the thing you are getting feedback on?
- Does the speaker have an axe to grind?
- Was the speaker present or did they see your performance themselves?
- Does the speaker have skill or expertise in a domain relevant to the one on which they are commenting?
- How is the speaker regarded in the area in which they are giving you feedback?
5. Build your action plan.
- Where do you need to go next to get the most value out of the feedback?
- Don’t build your plan until you understand the feedback, otherwise you will be casting around in the dark. Do you need additional clarification from the speaker? Are you ready to have a non-defensive conversation with the speaker that is focused on future opportunities to do better?
- Make a clear, simple plan with at least one next step you can take. This helps you move from a destructive to a constructive relationship to the feedback.
6. Move on.
- If you are deeply hurt, allow yourself to lick your wounds for a finite period of time (e.g., 1 day). When the time is up, move on. Staying in this place for too long harms you.
- Contain hurtful feedback by taking it for what it’s worth: this is John’s opinion about this behavior at this time, or my boss didn’t like these two things about my last report. I’ll revise the report and remember what I’ve learned next time.
- Separate out the criticism of an act from criticism about you as a person. Let it be information, not definition.
- If someone criticizes your behavior, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you. To the contrary, it might mean they think you’re worth the investment they’ve made in you by taking the time to give feedback.
This list was inspired in part by Pat Heim’s work, which you can find listed in this lesson’s References section.