Monday, February 6, 2012

5 Steps for Receiving Negative Feedback

The other day I was talking on the phone to a colleague with whom I was planning a presentation and seemingly out of nowhere he said, "Rusty, I don' think this is going to work. I just don't like working with you. So let's not continue."

Bam! What a hit! An ugly bruise on my fat ego surfaced immediately. Staggering for a moment, I recovered and asked, "Can you tell me more about your decision? Honestly, I didn't see it coming." (Of course we never see it coming).

Turns out my colleague had interpreted the language in my recent emails as too abrupt and demanding. And, given a hectic schedule and other priorities, he didn't want to pursue working with me, thinking I would be too demanding. He may have been right.

This was not the first time I've received feedback about terse emails. And, upon reflection, I see how someone with a busy schedule might have thought, "what do I need this for?"

So, I learned something from this situation, in addition to a lesson in email etiquette. First, I  should always assess the readiness of my partner, client, whomever, to do the job set in front of them. In this case, I would have known to move more slowly and be more thoughtful about the language I use. Second, I discovered a model for receiving negative feedback that makes it it easier to absorb and more valuable. Here are the steps:

  1. Shock. It's okay to be shocked as long as you recover soon thereafter.
  2. Hurt. No way to avoid this so acknowledge it, "wow, that hurts."
  3. Separate. Remove your ego from the event. See the situation objectively. Do a flyover of the interaction. 
  4. Learn. Once your ego is out of the way, you'll see the light, something to be learned. 
  5. Apply. Find some relevance for the learning. Figure out how a past or upcoming interaction could have been or might be improved from what you just learned.
I know, easier said than done.

Yet, think how much happier you'll be in client and other  relationships knowing that when you hear negative feedback, it will be something you can work with to improve. Might not even hurt as much.

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