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  • Judy Sims

How's Your Relationship with Feedback?

Most of us, if we’re really honest about it, have a complicated relationship with feedback. We know it’s supposed to be good for us. We know that we’re supposed to ask for it. We know we’re supposed to act on it.


We often find it confusing, deflating, and at its worst, ego destroying.

Even good feedback can be unpleasant. “Why did they choose that thing to praise?” Or for those of us who suffer from imposter syndrome, “I just got lucky”, or “It wasn’t that difficult”, or “They didn’t notice all my mistakes”.

Sure, every once in a while, someone nails it, and the feedback leaves you feeling pretty great, or at least gives you a clear picture of how you need to improve.

But for the most part, people suck at giving feedback. And what’s more problematic, they particularly suck at giving feedback to women.

That’s why 75% of women’s performance evaluations state something negative about their personalities, while only 2% of men’s do. (This statistic fills me with rage every time I use it.)

Back in 2006, I was called “blunt and dismissive” in a performance review. We all know if I were a man, it would have been “direct and assertive”. I’d like to think times have changed since then, but they most certainly have not.

Here are some quotes from just last week in the “women in tech” group on the social networking site Fishbowl:

“If a male superior calls you ‘opinionated’, what do you make of that?”

“I’ve been called ‘passionate’, ‘combative’, and ‘argumentative’, over simply speaking up against business decisions that I saw as poor or needing more scope. My male coworkers were never described as such for similar behaviors”.

“I once got called ‘aggressive’ by a CEO because I defended my numbers with confidence”.

It’s not just personal attacks that make most feedback useless, but also the general vagueness, the focus on negativity, the overgeneralization, the lack of timeliness, lack of objectivity, and overall lack of understanding of the recipient’s perspective.

So, what are we supposed to do with the feedback we receive?

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant advises that we consider three factors:

Motive – is the intent of the feedback to help you rather than undermine you, cut you down to size, or shut you up?

Source – does the person giving the feedback actually know what they’re talking about?

Message – is the feedback clear, timely, empathetic, and respectful? In other words, is it of high quality?

If you have all three of these factors, “mine it for gold”. Ask questions. Seek advice. Ask for future feedback as you seek to improve your performance.

If you don’t have all three factors, you have a choice. That person is trying to tell you something. See if you can find something useful in it. A great question to ask is simply, “Tell me more”.

Or, you can ignore it and move on with your life.

It’s up to you.

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