Giving and Receiving Difficult Feedback

Tina Shakour
Tina Shakour

“Everyone thinks you are failing.”

“Everyone thinks you are difficult to work with.”

These are the kind of feedback comments that are often hurtful and difficult for a woman to accept. We are trained socially and wired emotionally to strive to be liked. However, these are two examples of what I call bogus feedback. It is not “everyone” who feels that way – it is most likely ONLY the person speaking to you. And chances are good that individual is somehow threatened or challenged by you. This doesn’t remove the sting of hearing such terrible things, but take a step back, pause and ask some questions.

Ask “Who is everyone?” and “Please provide me specific examples.”

More often than not, the person giving you this review or feedback won’t be able to answer. I would advise that feedback without specifics is the kind of feedback you can dismiss as “bogus.” A good coach, manager or leader is not afraid to be honest if they are the one feeling that you just messed up. If they find you hard to work with, they will discuss work styles with you without emotion and blaming it on “everyone.” If another co-worker, customer or partner has a specific complaint about you, a good leader tells you about it openly.

I have worked with a wide range of managers – from the stellar leaders and coaches to the absolute dismal failures in ability to be human. And I simply refuse to internalize, brood upon or accept feedback that is emotional and vague.

So what do you do when you ask for specifics and you get them, and they are very detailed and very painful?

First and foremost, give yourself some time – it may be a lot to absorb. Acknowledge you have heard what has been said and acknowledge that you need some time to process it. Do yourself a favor and do not apologize and fall over yourself offering to change or fix things. You will be reacting from emotion and it won’t end well. Ask to meet again (soon) and take some time to really think about the feedback. Ask yourself the hard questions.

If you really do have a blind spot or area for improvement, come back and discuss it openly with your management. Most true leaders will respond well to such a conversation. If they don’t, well, that is another problem. You may very well have one of those horrible “bully bosses” and it is best to just plan your next career move. It isn’t worth the emotional pain of always hearing “everyone thinks you are failing” – that kind of negative atmosphere takes a toll no matter how hard you try to not let it.

Now think about the feedback you give to others. Not just in business and in the workplace – in your day to day life. Do you ever tell a member of your family “everyone thinks your stuff is nonsense” or tell a friend “everyone knows that guy is no good for you?”

In both the personal and the professional life, feedback should be open and direct and not emotional. There was a situation many years ago when I had an employee who made a very big mistake in front of a customer. It was a very bad situation. I asked the employee to go sit in the break room – I went for a walk around the block. I was angry and upset with the whole situation and I knew I needed to get my thoughts in order before I went in and spoke with him. After I had calmed down a bit, I went in and had a good discussion with him and then spoke with the customer. We were all able to move past the situation, thankfully.

As your career progresses, you’ll have to provide feedback not only to your team, but to your peers and to your boss. Imagine a situation where the leader of your team is about crash the whole boat into a cluster of rocks. If you are able to give specific examples of why the course seems wrong and provide alternate courses, you might be able to save the day. Telling your leadership “everyone thinks this is wrong” just isn’t going to work.

Got feedback for me? Comments are open below. 🙂

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Tina Shakour lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband Nasir and one very spoiled Shiba Inu named Zuko. She works for the start-up Veetle, and has been an engineer, an Internet TV “personality” and now spends her time loving video, social media and marketing. You can follow her on Twitter (@tinashakour).

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