I recently came across this eCard that you can download and send: “You’re entitled to have an opinion. I am just letting you know that it is stupid.”
We all wonder what to do when we get well-intended, but unsolicited feedback. It rarely feels good and sometimes can sting. I recall a woman once approached me after a speech to suggest that my black dress wasn’t my “best color”. She offered to help, as she was a wardrobe consultant. She was dressed in a flowing pink and orange dress and a hat. Some people are easy to ignore. It’s usually about them, and their personal agenda.
At the same time, you ignore feedback in leadership at your peril. As you move to the top you get less and less of it, and most of that is sanitized to make you feel good. We have to work at getting feedback and insist on candor. As someone once said, “History repeats itself because no one was listening the first time.” We are doomed to repeat our own mistakes if we don’t get guidance.
One reason we developed a leadership assessment on executive presence is because we knew that leaders wanted feedback on how they were showing up to their organizations. In coaching, we always work with leaders to help them take in and process the data they receive, and go back to the people who have participated in the surveys, to thank them and learn more from them. This really is one of the secrets I talk about in All the Leader You Can Be, that separates good leaders from great ones.
But how do you handle the emotions you feel when you get negative feedback? No matter how seasoned and wise we are, it can hurt. But you can turn the lemons into lemonade! Here’s some advice I give my clients:
1. Consider it a gift. Most people get little if any meaningful feedback, especially on behaviors that enhance or detract from their leadership. This holds them back from becoming the best they can be.
2. As painful as it may be, not knowing is far worse than knowing. You can't do anything to correct others' perceptions if you are in the dark, or harbor blind spots about how others view you.
3. One person is an outlier, but if several people in a position to notice agree, then there's a pattern that you need to pay attention to and act on. You may realize that there were simply unintended consequences to things you said, actions you took or decisions you made. They were interpreted differently than you intended.
4. The best leaders we've ever worked accept feedback with a combination of confidence and humility. They are confident enough go out of their way to solicit feedback, even before it is offered. They are humble enough to listen and act on it. This is how they get to the top. They make it a point to be clear in delivering feedback, too. They "tap out a message" so you know what you're doing well and what you need to work on.
5. There's a big difference between bullying, hurtful feedback, and negative feedback delivered with respect and good intention. If you're being bullied, ignore it. If the feedback is accurate and if the spirit is respectful, accept it graciously.
6. Surround yourself with people who tell you the truth and have an interest in helping you develop. Cultivate those relationships so that when you receive feedback you can talk with them, ask them to tell you what they have observed, get their advice, and consider a smart course of action.
7. Wait until you have your emotions under control before you go back to those who may have been effected by your words, actions or behaviors. Prepare yourself to have a thoughtful conversation with them. Let them know you are interested in developing yourself as a leader or professional, and that you're curious to get their opinion. Listen and don't be defensive. Thank them and let them know what you intend to do about it.
Would you like to know how others view you in all 15 distinct qualities of executive presence? The Executive Presence Mastery Program combines a robust survey of your colleagues with coaching from a pro. It's a learning program where you'll meet peers who also want to propel their own career and know how invaluable this kind of experience is to accelerate their growth and help them be viewed as succession candidates.
Author: Suzanne Bates