Career Talk 15.12.17

Your guide to dealing with feedback at work

Making good use of feedback at work is crucial for career progression. It can be difficult to know how to respond, so here's your ultimate guide.
Kim Connor Streich
Kim Connor Streich

Here at Debut we’re pretty big on feedback. Our Fight For Feedback campaign, which lobbied the government to introduce compulsory feedback after face-to-face interviews, received national media coverage and received the backing of a host of top employers. But feedback doesn’t just stop after interview.

Assessing our performance with the help of feedback is crucial means of progression and improvement throughout our careers. Although it’s sometimes difficult to take and it’s easy to get defensive, taking feedback on board and using it to improve shows your employer that you’re willing to learn and improve for future. Here are our top tips for dealing with feedback at work, and using it to further your career.

Feedback in the workplace

what feedback at work is like

Throughout our lives, we all receive feedback at various stages. Whether it’s from a piece of coursework, a parents’ evening at school, an extracurricular activity or general advice from friends and family, feedback comes in lots of shapes and sizes.

However, when you enter the work environment, feedback becomes a lot more formal (although informal feedback is often given as well). In a typical workplace, you’ll have around 3-4 performance reviews in a year. You’ll sit down with your manager and  discuss feedback provided on your performance from people you work with. It’s unlikely this feedback will just come from one person; unlike at school and university,  feedback comes from a much broader range of stakeholders.

Feedback at work is also of much more importance, as it often determines your progression in terms of the projects you’re assigned to, whether you get promoted or are entitled to a pay rise/bonus. When you’re a twenty-something trying to forge your career and save up some money, these are super important things to take into consideration.

Why do we find it hard to digest feedback?

feedback at work

Sheila Heen (author of Thanks for the Feedback) explains that although feedback is meant with the best intentions, it’s often viewed negatively. This is because it falls in the middle of two conflicting human needs – the need to grow and develop and the need to be accepted and respected for who we are. Based on my own experiences, I have found several benefits of feedback:

  1. It makes you more self-aware: Feedback highlights behaviours that you probably didn’t even realise you were exhibiting. For that reason, it makes you think a little more about how you conduct yourself / handle certain situations.  You want your actions to reflect the person you believe yourself to be, and feedback from other colleagues can highlight if that’s not the case.
  2. Feedback strengthens relationships: While you won’t necessarily be told in your performance review who exactly said what, if you are able to work on all your development points, your relationships with those that highlighted them will strengthen.
  3. It provides a framework for action:  Feedback we are given can be used to create goals to work towards. Sometimes it can be hard, especially so early on in our careers, to to know what we should be striving to achieve. A great place to start is with feedback from our stakeholders.
  4. Renews your focus: It’s easy once you’ve learned the ropes of a new job to get comfortable and become complacent. Feedback gives you a kick up the bum to remind you that you’ve still got work to do!!

Tips for dealing with feedback

When Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook CEO) visited Airbnb to share some career gems with their employees she was asked “What’s the number one thing you look for in someone who can scale with a company?”

Sandberg’s reply:  “Someone who takes feedback well. Because people who can take feedback well are people who can learn and grow quickly”.

How you respond to feedback is critical.  Your ability to receive feedback positively will demonstrate that you are mature, humble and committed to being the best person for yourself and your team.   I’ve provided some tips below on how to handle feedback:

  1. Accept it, in its entirety: When receiving feedback, it’s easy to just focus solely on the positive or the negatives. Try to keep an open mind and reflect on everything that is said. Continue with the things you’re doing well, but be sure to ask more questions on the suggestions for improvement.
  2. Manage your emotions: When we hear criticism about ourselves we immediately become defensive. Our facial expressions and body language can become dismissive. We might even start planning our reply before hearing all the details. We are dying to blurt out “That’s not true”, “when did I do that?”. Do everything in your power to stop those reactions. The moment you start reacting, is the moment you close your mind to everything that is being said. Don’t listen just make up some justifications for your action, listen to gain a real understanding.
  3. Shifting the blame / making excuses is a no no: When you’re receiving feedback, your manager may bring up an example of when you demonstrated the criticised behaviour. Don’t try and pass the blame to someone else who was in that situation, or make excuses. Take ownership.

How to respond to feedback

how to respond to feedback at work

Make sure to ask questions for a deeper understanding of exactly what the feedback is saying.  Feedback tends to be quite vague, so you need to ask questions to gain clarity. For example, if the feedback is that your written communication could be better, some example response could be:

Seek examples: “Thanks for the feedback, would you be able to provide an example of when my written communication wasn’t that great?”

Find out frequency: “You mentioned that my email to the director of the technology team had quite a few errors. Have you noticed me send other emails like this? 

Ask for specific solutions: “Going forward, can you suggest any ideas on how I can improve the way I communicate with stakeholders?” 

Seek out other perspectives: Once you have received your feedback, reach those you trust in your network and ask their opinion. Do they agree with the areas of development you have been given, how would they go forward in addressing them?

Reflect, plan and move forward: The most important part of feedback is what you do with it. The question you need to ask yourself is “How can I convert what I have been told into action?” In the process of moving forward, check in with colleagues to see if they’ve noticed any improvement. Try to do this a couple of times before your next formal review.

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