Thursday, February 17, 2011

How can you deal with negative feedback?

A recent article over at All Things Workplace reminded me about the importance of negative feedback at work. Blogger Steve Roesler points out that negative feedback is necessary, especially when someone has high potential to do really well and move up in a company. It's been my experience with many managers that no one likes to give criticism, even if it's constructive. However, I wager that many interns have bosses who have zero problem flipping you off verbally and taking the criticism from useful to hurtful.

One of the best books I've ever read about communication skills stated that criticism comes in only three flavors: true, partly true, and not true. If someone criticizes you and it's true, then you can just say, "Yeah, you're right, I botched that--here's how I plan to fix it/I'm not sure how to fix it, do you have any ideas?" If the criticism is partly true, you can say, "Well, I can see how you might see it that way, but to me I really only messed up that first half/got better at returning RFIs after the XYZ proposal went out." When you believe the criticism to be untrue or even really imprecise, ask for specifics on when exactly you've messed something up terribly or been rude to a client, etc.

When I used to do improv comedy, our group leader set up two rules and only two rules: Say "yes, and..." and don't argue. Arguing doesn't move a scene forward in comedy, and it doesn't move a performance review or project forward either. Asking for specifics on negative feedback is the best response because it moves things forward: what exactly didn't you like about the way I put this set together, what concerned you about that email I wrote, what is it about my performance here at ABC Architects that you find to just be 'adequate'?, in what specific ways do you think I can improve my writing/detailing/designing/whatever? If you get a stone wall on these requests, it's important to frame your request in terms of the job yet again: "I'd like to improve my skills in X so that I can get these projects done better/faster/to a higher quality, but I'm not sure how to do that without a specific target to aim at. Can you help me narrow down what I need to do to improve?"

By pursuing the solution to negative feedback instead of being defensive or clamming up and shutting down, you can actually use the criticism as a chance to improve. (However, if your boss is unable to be specific after some pushing for those specifics, you may figure out that he or she has bigger problems than you can solve. Maybe he or she just doesn't like you, or the problem s/he described isn't really the problem, or s/he is a terrible communicator and you may never know what the problem is. Every now and then, you meet a person like this, and they just happen to be your boss. Take a deep breath and try not to take it personally.)

No comments:

Post a Comment