Suppose somebody tells you that you tend to ramble and repeat yourself in your meetings causing some attendees to tune you out. Or imagine that a colleague suggests that sometimes the emotion you express while making a point seems off-putting and over the top. Or consider your boss suggesting that you try to be more concise and to the point when expressing what you think.
How does this sort of feedback make you feel? If you are like most humans, perhaps a little wounded, embarrassed, defensive, even a bit angry? No matter how artfully negative feedback is delivered, it generally tends to sting.
One of my favorite aphorisms is: “it’s what you don’t know, you don’t know that’s the problem”. Thus, perversely, I like to refer to the sort of negative feedback as “A GIFT” and remind myself that not all gifts we receive in life are instantly welcome. When someone has taken the time to share their perception of how some element of your behavior or style is seen in a negative light from their vantage point, you instantly become aware of what you may not have known before. And that is a gift should you choose to make use of what you have learned.
By the time we reach adulthood, our personalities and operating styles are fairly well-developed and the resultant behavior we engage in daily is essentially unconscious. Even if you are one of those managers who is highly self-aware and attuned to the people around you, you simply cannot always know how you come across. That is why constructive feedback is a gift.
While massive overhauls of our personality are beyond most of us, behavior modifications are not. We can learn not to ramble and repeat ourselves. We can learn to tone down our emotional expression. We can learn to be more concise.
I once participated in a management program called the “Looking Glass”. Participants were required to simulate the running of a fictitious company for one full day and then spent two days debriefing the experience. One at a time each of us were required to sit silently in the middle of a circle — the barrel as it was called — and listen to the rest of the group tell us how they experienced us during the simulation. It was astounding how many different ways I was seen by this diverse group of individuals. Not all of their perceptions were flattering but they were insightful and helpful.
One of our group I remember well, was a total jerk; arrogant, pushy, outspoken, assuming, and the type who takes their ball and bat and goes home unless they get their way. He refused to shut up and cease arguing when confronted in the barrel by what we had to say. Finally, one of the instructors slammed his fist on the table and yelled at him: “shut up, aren’t you listening , the group is trying to tell you that you are a total @^%$&@#*^#$%&.” To that he responded: “yea, my boss called me that just the other day but what the @&$#%^@% does he know“? Burdened with such a learning disability, no amount of feedback serves a gift.
So look for the gift in what well-meaning colleagues occasionally have to tell you when your feedback is something negative. Then try to isolate the behavior in question, honestly assess the validity of what you’ve been told, and dedicate yourself to any modifications that can enhance your performance and management style.