Early in my career I was the Marketing Director for a commercial real estate firm in Manhattan. I had a great relationship with the team of brokers I worked with. I was having a great year developing new marketing ideas for their properties. Everything was going well. So, when it came time for my annual review, I was pretty confident. Then, I was hit with a ton of bricks.
During the review I touted all of the great things I had done, all of the projects I had worked on, and the successful outcomes. I asked for a raise. And then came that ton of bricks…the comment made to me was, “everyone is replaceable.” A punch to my over-confident gut. After all the great work I had done, this was what I was told.
I spent the next hour on the phone with my mom crying and ranting and spewing expletives. How could my boss say that to me? What a jerk! I’m the best employee he ever had! I’ll show him! I really wanted to to just quit and walk away. How dare he dismiss all of my hard work and dedication to doing my job! How dare he!
Well, after venting and crying and spewing a few expletives, I began to get over myself and realized, well…he is right. Everyone is replaceable. And it was my choice to decide how I was going to take this feedback and use it. As Tasha Eurich wrote in her article for Harvard Business Review, The Right Way to Respond to Negative Feedback,
“processing and acting on negative feedback is not always easy. It can make us defensive, angry, and self-conscious, which subsequently impairs our effectiveness. What’s more, we can’t take all feedback we receive at face value.”
When I finally calmed down and stopped to really think about the feedback I received, I realized I was overreacting, and not really listening. The review had gone pretty well. They were pleased with my work. They were happy with me. But, in my making an assumption about getting a raise, I got feedback I wasn’t expecting.
There are tools to help deal with feedback you aren’t expecting, whether it be constructive, negative, or good. Most of our initial emotional reactions have to do with our own self-image, and hearing something contrary to it. Here are some of the tools Ms. Eurich provided:
Pause. Don’t let a knee-jerk reaction get in your way of growth. Give yourself time to pause, reflect, and absorb the feedback you have received. Process your emotions, and identify them. Why do you feel this way? Put it into words.
Get additional input. Seek out friends and coworkers you trust to tell you the truth; to tell it like it is. Get that reality check. You need to be able to understand the feedback. Eurich labeled these trusted friends and colleagues as “loving critics”:
These “loving critics,” as we named them, were people they trusted and who would be brutally honest with them.
Show, don’t tell. If the feedback you receive indicates your team or coworkers don’t think you care about them because of a something that happened, or even inaction on your part, you need to act – and in a sincere manner. You can’t just tell them, “I do care”. You need to show them by doing something. This is part public relations (your image). Your action needs to align with the feedback, your desire to change, and your need to show your team or coworkers that you are actively engaged in changing yourself.
Make the First Move. You can’t improve in isolation. You need to seek out the feedback of others, get additional input, and understand the feedback so you can take action. Though easier said than done, it is best for you to make the first move, approach those who gave you the feedback, acknowledge your part, and seek to work out a way together to improve things going forward.
Fail forward. It’s not always easy to admit to ourselves, or others, that we have flaws. But, when we do, it helps create a connection with our coworkers. As Eurich so aptly stated,
Sometimes the best response to critical feedback is to admit our flaws — first to ourselves, and then to others — while setting expectations for how we are likely to behave. When we let go of the things we cannot change, it frees up the energy to focus on changing the things we can.
The adoption of these tools takes time and practice. You can start small by seeking out feedback from your “loving critics” and reflecting on the feedback, acknowledging your emotions, and putting together a plan to change.