How to Deal With Negative Feedback
Get tips on learning from negative feedback.
Today's article is about what to do after you've gotten negative feedback.
How to Deal with Negative Feedback
Very early in my career I was told “Lisa, you’re like a big ship, a cruise liner, coming into port. You rock all the other boats without even knowing it.” At the time, I felt that I valued my colleagues; yet clearly this wasn’t how others perceived me.
I still remember the sting of receiving this negative feedback. However, this information led to many positive changes and gave me a much better understanding of how I interacted with and impacted others. Ultimately it made my relationships with my boss and colleagues much stronger than I could have ever imagined.
So, in a way, getting negative feedback is actually good news. The person giving you the feedback is shedding light on perceptions that previously were unknown to you; in essence he or she is sharing with you some of your blind spots. It’s good because now you have additional information that will help you to stretch and to grow.
The Johari Window: Getting Helpful Feedback
In fact, there is a classic tool used by cognitive psychologists called the Johari window. It was designed to help people get exposure to their blind spots through feedback. (By the way, don’t let the name throw you, it’s just a combination of the first names of the inventors, Joe Luft and Harry Ingham: Johari).
It’s very useful tool, so I’ll take just minute to talk about it more.
How the Johari Window Works
First you choose five or six adjectives from a list of 55 that describe your personality. So for me I might pick confident, friendly, trustworthy, organized, and energetic. Then you give that same list of 55 adjectives to peers, your boss, staff members…really anybody that knows you professionally. Then you ask them to choose five or six adjectives that describe you. (I think the results are more meaningful if you do the exercise separately with work colleagues and personal friends). Try to get at least four people to complete the short exercise for you because the more people, the better the results.
Ultimately what you’ll end up with are adjectives in four different categories. Image a piece of paper divided into four sections.
Category 1 would be words that both you and the others chose for you -- that’s the upper left side.
Category 2 would be words that neither you nor the others chose --that’s the bottom right side.
Category 3 would be the words that you chose, but your colleagues didn’t-- your private side-- that’s the bottom left side. And finally,
Category 4 words your colleagues chose but you didn’t -- your blind spots-- that’s the upper right side.
The overall goal of doing this exercise is to expose your blind spots and private side because then that opens the door for a sensitive discussion about those perceptions. Of course, after these discussions, those adjective would then be moved into category 1 – the category that lists adjectives that both you and the others know about.
Negative Feedback Identifies Your Blind Spots
The idea is that the model describes how humans interact as we are getting to know each other and building trust. Communication theory suggests that the larger the category 1 area is, the greater the shared mutual understanding, and the greater the trust among the team.
As I mentioned, the Johari exercise opens the door for a discussion about perceptions. If you receive feedback that contains negative adjectives, it’s critical to have a discussion to understand what specific behaviors lead to these perceptions. Ask whoever delivered the feedback for more details. Again, you want to understand specific behaviors that led to the perceptions. The point is that you can change specific behaviors. But you can’t change if you don’t know how you need to behave differently.
Ask for Specific Behavioral Feedback
Let's say you've been told others think you are arrogant. When you ask for more details, you want the person delivering the negative feedback to say something like “When you’re in a meeting and you interrupt team members, they perceive that you don’t want to listen. When you don’t use direct eye contact to respond and you raise your chin slightly in the air, people perceive you as arrogant.”
What to Say When Responding to Negative Feedback
It might be somewhat difficult to hear this feedback, but it’s important to listen carefully without reacting. When you receive negative feedback from a variety of people, I suggest talking with each one individually--for example, over lunch. Tell each one-- privately and sincerely-- that you would like their help. Tell each that you received feedback that surprised you and that you want to change. Explain that you want to do what it takes to repair the damage because you value them. Then ask each person to help identify specific behaviors that led to their negative perceptions.
[[AdMiddle]Listen, Repeat and Learn
Again, it’s critical that you NOT REACT. Don’t defend or explain your behaviors. Your goal is to simply listen and repeat back what you understand people to be saying. Then thank them for sharing with you. You may want to also share some positive feedback with each person. Tell them specifically why you value them as part of the team. The key will be for you to be sincere, genuine, and most importantly, open to the comments.
You might also consider talking to a trusted friend. Ask if he has observed similar behaviors. Finally, after you’ve gathered as much feedback as you can, you need to honestly evaluate the information and decide if you want to change. If so, you’ll need to figure out and practice your new behaviors.
Finally, if you think discussions with some people would be too risky or you wouldn’t feel comfortable having the discussions I mentioned, you may be able to get similar feedback from attending an interpersonal development seminar. However, I think open, honest discussions about difficult topics often lead to much stronger, better relationships even when it feels uncomfortable at the time.
Spending time understanding how you impact others is always a good investment in your career. By further developing your self-awareness you can be more productive and successful. You can also improve your relationships which can lead to decreased conflict and increased stability and harmony.
This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.
P.S. I have links to two electronic versions—The Johari Window and the challenging inversion--The Nohari Window. You might consider using one or both of these with your teammates to stimulate further discussion. I also included additional resources in the show notes for professional trainers.
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