It was my first performance review in my first professional job and I was nervous. My manager—who is still a valued friend and mentor—sat down with me in a tiny conference room and reviewed the 360 degree feedback I had received from my colleagues. Most of the feedback, in fact almost all of it, was positive, even the so-called “opportunity areas.” But there was one review that was not so positive. I knew who had submitted it and exactly why he had made those comments, and felt it was massively unfair. I tried to explain to my boss what had really happened and why the feedback was unreasonable, but she stopped me by saying, “Feedback is a gift. Receive it as such and then you can decide what you want to do with it.”
My manager/mentor gave me many wise words of advice over the years, but that was the first that really stuck with me. I found it to be an incredibly empowering thought—people may give you all kinds of “feedback,” but it’s up to you how, or even if, to act upon it. Feedback takes time, thought, and often comes from a place of genuine helpfulness so it should never be completely ignored. But not every person giving feedback has the right motivations, the appropriate expertise, or even the personality/style to give useful feedback. Knowing that, you can listen to all feedback cordially, thank the giver, and avoid being defensive.
No matter what role I’ve been in—direct report, manager, external consultant, mentor or mentee— I have found the ability to receive and act on feedback appropriately has been fundamentally important. It is a mark of emotional maturity and professional confidence to be able to accept critiques graciously. A perfectly acceptable response to someone else’s input can be a sincere, “Thank you for that feedback.” You don’t have to explain or defend yourself, but if you find value in the feedback, be sure to let the giver know. And if you really want to impress them, let them know what specific actions you are going to take in the future based on that feedback. If you’ve really thought about it and do not find the feedback to be helpful, feel free to just leave it with a simple thank you or other acknowledgement of having heard and understood the comment.
I have personally found a delayed response to feedback to be a valuable approach. There have been times when I have received feedback and my immediate reaction was to want to justify or explain myself. But, by just accepting the gift and thinking about it more later—I’ve been able to pull out valuable pieces of input to apply to my work or approach. An instant response can be an emotional one and taking time to think about it may lead to a more rational evaluation.
There’s a verse from the Bible that comes to mind when I think about feedback: “Test all things; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21 KJV). When someone gives you a critique, consider it; evaluate whether it is true, whether it is applicable, and how—or if—you should act upon it moving forward. You always have the option to ignore the content (if you’re willing to accept the consequences), but don’t reject the gift.
Sarah Faulkner, Principal, Faulkner Strategic Consulting