Receiving Performance Feedback: A Development Approach

By Miriam Yates, Consulting Psychologist, Within Consulting

I’ve always taken pride in my willingness to accept others’ feedback.  But a recent experience has prompted me to re-evaluate my approach.  Last month, I submitted a major body of research work on the topic of influence in the workplace.  It took a significant amount of time to generate.  It was my own ideas, my own theory, and something I’d kept close to my chest for the past 6-10 months.  I had a two-hour meeting during which a panel including four very senior academics and myself discussed various points relating to my work.  It was proceeding well… until about 1:46:35 into the allocated 2:00:00.  At this point, I had feedback-fatigue. I was exhausted. I started getting really frustrated, increasingly sensitive to (what I perceived as) the negative points raised, and had a sudden urge to flush my work down the toilet and board a plane to Mexico.  

Good news: I stayed in the room, and finished the meeting!  Bad news: I experienced heightened levels of cortisol and a few grey hairs in the 24 hours following!  It took me until the next day to cool my jets, and shift into a reflective mindset.  Since then, I’ve taken the opportunity to consider some key learnings to draw on in future scenarios.  In the interest of collaborative professional development, I thought that you might also find these lessons useful to consider next time you receive performance feedback.  Let’s be sure, this isn’t a story of how to give feedback, and certainly not a guide on best practice to receiving feedback.  But, it is a peek behind the scenes here at Within Consulting into the process we go through to develop ourselves professionally.  

First and foremost, let’s all take a moment just to recognise that being given feedback, is hard!  Whether it’s negative, positive, or neutral, when someone provides their opinion on your work, it just feels so personal.  But remembering the following key points can really help when you are on the receiving end of feedback.

1.    A Call to Action: Aim to receive feedback in the spirit it is meant.  Very rarely is feedback ever intended to be malicious or unhelpful.  More often than not, feedback (however badly delivered) is designed to promote a call to action, and provide a foundation for future development. Don’t let yourself become defensive, or withdraw from your work. 
2.    Distil and Sense-Check all Feedback: Consider the feedback provided thoroughly. Take some time (48 hours or longer) to just let the feedback ‘sit’.  Try to see the situation from their perspective and if you’re still not seeing their point/s, sense-check the feedback with someone whose opinion you trust.  When reflecting on the feedback, recognise that sometimes feedback isn’t about you.  If necessary, seek clarification of any points raised, so you’re able to more deeply understand the others’ viewpoint.  
3.    Spot and Polish the Gems: Importantly, you determine which points to adopt in future.  You may not accept or use all points provided, but there will always be some useful ‘gems’ that you can use to build upon.  Be proactive, for instance, if the performance feedback came from your direct supervisor, suggest that you create a development plan together.  If this isn’t feasible, generate your own development plan and check this with a mentor or colleague who has experience in the skillset you’re aiming to work on.  

Remember that giving feedback can be just as tough, if not more difficult than receiving feedback.  For this reason, as a recipient of feedback it’s vital that you steer clear of initial emotional or physical reactions.  It is definitely not a good idea to throw a chair or run from the room!  If you need a moment to collect yourself, you should always feel comfortable excusing yourself from the room and getting your thoughts together.  Then, return to the situation and complete the meeting in a calm, considered manner.  

Feedback is based on someone else’s reality; their opinion of your work; behavioural expectations or values.  The bottom line here is that the views provided are theirs, and may not be representative of others’.  This doesn’t mean you should dismiss feedback.  Rather, consider it an ‘opportunity’.  For this reason alone, feedback is an invaluable tool for ongoing development, as well as relationship building.

Within Consulting offer a range of coaching, workshops and consulting services.  For more information, contact Tamara Baker at tamara@withinconsulting.com.au or Miriam Yates at miriam@withinconsulting.com.au..