To succeed at anything, you need to know how you are performing and where you need to focus your attention. Work is no different. We often get task feedback, but not always the feedback important to promotion or personal performance improvement. How can we bridge that gap?
Self-awareness is the ability to take an honest look at your life without any attachment to it being right or wrong, good or bad.
~ Debbie Ford
Self-awareness is important
Self-awareness can be career enhancing or career limiting, depending on how accurate your assessment is. It is not just something you can do in a quiet moment on your own. You need to check in on how you are perceived and received, by others. Understanding this is not always straightforward.
Getting feedback can be tricky
Many of us feel that we are easy to work with, and we are happy to receive feedback and open to considering it. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes we get feedback that shocks us. We don’t understand why people see us in a way that is contrary to our intentions.
Psychologists call this, the transparency illusion — the belief that we’re all open books and that what we intend, is what people see. But there can be a wide gap between intent and impact (Hedges, 2017, p.2).
I worked with someone who wanted to be considered for promotion. She has been told that generally she was ready but there were no upcoming opportunities. Soon afterwards, a position became available and she was up for consideration. When told, she was also given some feedback that had never been offered before. It was about her manner in supervising staff. She was told that it would need to change if she was to succeed with the promotion.
To her credit, she was able to take on the feedback. She undertook training and coaching to make changes in her management style, and was duly promoted.
Emotional intelligence plays a role
Recognising your own response to feedback is important. You may not always understand what you project, but you do need to be able to manage your own reactions to the impact they create. That can be your own as well as the consequences of how others are impacted.
If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.
~ Daniel Goleman
How can you get the feedback you need?
We don’t all get the timely feedback my friend did. Sometimes we must get this ourselves. There are a couple of choices here. We can draw on the advice of colleagues. This usually results in generalised commentary eg about different people’s work styles or “lunch room gossip-style”. Such information can be useful but needs to be sifted through critically.
You can also ask for feedback. It may seem a little confronting, but may be what you need to do. In work for her book, The Power of Presence, Kirri Hedges suggests an approach to use. She says “it takes a couple of well-worded questions and a few key people to get the information you need” (Hedges, 2017, p.3).
This approach takes some thinking beforehand. There are three main parts to the process.
- Choose five feedback providers
- Consider people who see you often eg your boss, supervisor, colleagues, peers, direct reports or former colleagues.
- Consider which of them would make the best sources (who knows what is going on).
- Consider who you can trust and will give you direct feedback.
- Ask each for a catch-up
- Face-to-face meetings are best.
- The way you set up the catch-up is important to get the feedback you want and to allay any concerns the feedback provider may have. Ensure they understand the purpose of the information (your development) and why you value their input. You want this conversation to strengthen your relationship with each person, not weaken it by creating discomfort about providing comments.
- Make the request in person if possible. That way you can answer any questions or concerns the person may have
- Be clear about the confidential nature of the conversation. Let them know you want to get honest feedback, you will be collecting it from several people and looking for themes. That way, you may be able to lessen the sense of burden on any one person.
- Ask two questions
- What is the general perception of me? (or in your own words)
- What could I do differently that have the greatest impact on my career?
(Hedges, 2017, p.4).
Hedges suggests these are designed to “tap into the collective wisdom”
Managing the process
There are two things to manage during this exercise:
- managing the responses to get what you want
- managing yourself and your responses to the feedback
Managing the responses
If the feedback provider seems uncomfortable in providing the feedback, they may give job-specific feedback or other general feedback. Acknowledge the feedback and steer them towards the feedback you want eg Thank them for the feedback. Acknowledge their comments and ask for more at the level sought ie feedback about career impact such as you as a leader/colleague/ person.
Whenever you receive feedback about yourself, it is easy to get defensive. The best approach is to try to suspend judgement until you have explored the feedback provided. Adopt a curiosity stance – ask questions, seek explanations – so that you understand what is being conveyed. It is only then that you can truly try to appreciate the value in the commentary.
If you do find defensive responses arising, try to manage these. A defence response through resistance, justification or explanation can limit the value any feedback may offer.
Hedges suggests, “the quality of your feedback will only be as good as your ability to remain comfortable
while receiving it” (Hedges, 2017, p.4).
Take time to review, summarise, analyse
Take the time you need to review the feedback offered. Summarise it, noting the frequency of similar responses. Analyse the answers to see if there are those that need to be examined further or acted upon.
Remember, this is valuable feedback. It takes effort to gather it. Give it due attention. Consider what it offers in terms of how you may be viewed at work. If you are misunderstood, perhaps there is something you can do to change that and change the way you are perceived at work.
Hedges, Kristi. 2017. How Are You Perceived at Work? Here’s an Exercise to Find Out in Harvard Business Review, 19 December 2017.