Before you read your feedback, remember: it’s not about you.
That is, the best feedback focuses on behaviors you have displayed in the past, not on who you are as a person. The more emotional distance you can place between yourself and the feedback, the more likely that you’ll get something useful out of it.
Let’s pretend you’ve just received this feedback:
“On our last project, I asked you to help investigate an issue with the database. I didn’t hear back from you for over two weeks. When you answered, you said it wasn’t your job to fix it. I felt dismissed and stressed because I needed to be able to run accurate database queries to complete my work. I wish you had answered me earlier and pointed me towards another team member who could help.”
On first read, it probably feels like a rebuke. That’s normal, but it can also get in the way of dealing with feedback productively. Here’s a framework to help you avoid that.
The ECO framework for reflecting on feedback
Feeling defensive or offended are natural responses to opinions that might go against how we perceive ourselves. Think about where these emotions stem from — does the feedback above make you unfairly judged because you pride yourself on being a helpful colleague? Or maybe you’re annoyed because you’re constantly bombarded by requests for help.
Acknowledge that what you’re feeling is uncomfortable. Being aware of your emotions and the reasons for them will help you set them aside in order to reflect. Try to assume the best. The person giving you feedback probably didn’t mean for it to be an attack on your work ethic or integrity as a colleague.
Once you’ve let the feedback bypass that initial emotional barrier, you’re in a position to reflect on its actual content.
Consider what the feedback tells you about your past behavior. Reflect on the context in which it happened and the examples given. How does it compare to your own assessment?
From your perspective, let’s say you weren’t able to promptly respond to your colleague’s request for help because you were too busy. But you also had not been aware of how your response made them feel “dismissed” or of how urgently they needed that help.
In this case, neither you nor your colleague had a complete view of the situation. Feedback is just one person’s opinion of your behavior. But it’s useful because it supplements gaps in your own observations. When you take the time to reflect on others’ perceptions, it can enrich your own perspective with a new dimension.
Sometimes it’s easier to do this by discussing feedback with another colleague, mentor, or coach who can help place things in perspective.
After you’ve reflected on the feedback, you might conclude that it had some valid points about your behavior. (Or you might conclude it didn’t — that’s okay too, if you’ve considered it as objectively as possible. Not all feedback is created equal. Don’t feel compelled to take feedback on board that doesn’t offer a constructive opinion about observable behavior.)
With this new perspective, think about how to use the feedback to adjust behaviors or goals. For example, maybe you’ll resolve to avoid similar misunderstandings by responding to requests within 24 hours and setting expectations about when you’ll be able to look into the problem. Or you might realize that you need to switch to a divide-and-conquer strategy by asking another team member to help take on some requests.
Feedback can be highly motivational because it helps us measure whether we’re achieving our goals. This is particularly true of positive feedback. When you get praise, take a well-deserved moment to bask in it — and then consider how you could stretch your existing goals to achieve even more.
When you approach feedback with self-awareness, the benefits make it worth your while. Go forth and reflect!