Wharton’s Adam Grant is a great mind in the world of organizational psychology. Recently he posted this:
“If you’re surprised by the feedback you get at a performance review, your boss has failed. Good managers don’t wait for formal meetings to help you grow, they make it a daily priority. The sooner you get feedback, the sooner you can break bad habits and learn better ones.”
He is so right about that. If you’re a manager or a leader, one of your primary jobs is to give people feedback to support their development. That’s one of the fundamental skills I teach my clients, and in fact, this week I’m even running a multi-day workshop on that topic. I think it’s that important.
Unfortunately, many managers aren’t great at this part of their job. Far too many people have lived through getting upsetting, negative feedback that surprised them. Occasionally, some part of the feedback will ring true – there was that one thing that happened with that one person that one time – but the boss has taken that incident out of context or blown it out of proportion.
When that happens, you have every right to feel frustrated, angry, and upset with your boss.
But if that’s all that comes of it, you’re missing a major opportunity in your career. This moment has the opportunity to be a critical inflection point. You need a strategy to make the most of it.
Move Through Your Emotions
The first step is to move through your emotional response. You need to be able to clear out the frustration and irritation so that you can move past it. Once you do that, you’ll be able to approach your boss from an emotional state that is clear and settled. It can be difficult to do this on your own. Here’s where a good, ethical coach can help. They can sit with you and help you move through your reactions and prepare you to approach your boss in a clear and calm manner.
Get Clear About the Feedback
The next step is to get clear about any aspects of the feedback that you need to own. This part is about identifying where you fell short and accepting that reality with a “right-sized” amount of regret – neither belittling the issue nor blowing it out of proportion.
Figure Out How to Respond
Then it’s time to figure out what to say to your boss. How will you own your part of the mistake, without necessarily accepting the full force of the negative feedback (if it doesn’t fit)? What will you do next to correct the problem? In your relationship with your boss, you’ll need to decide whether you want to talk about the fact that the feedback caught you by surprise. If so, you’ll also want to think about what you could propose going forward so that it doesn’t happen again. How will you create the context so that your boss feels comfortable giving you feedback more regularly going forward?
This is a critical conversation that requires preparation and finesse, so you can have it without making your boss defensive.
You might be thinking, “Why should I do all of this work? Isn’t it my boss’s job to be thinking about how to give feedback to me?” If so, you’re absolutely right. Even so, your boss has information about your performance that you will need if you’re going to succeed. If you can create the runway for them to give you that information on a regular basis, you’ll be setting yourself up for success.
If you’ve found yourself in this situation and wished you had a better strategy to respond, or if you’re in the middle of it right now, I hope this gives you some ideas about how to work through it.
Of course, reading a few ideas isn’t the same as having a coach by your side helping you through a difficult situation. If that’s something you’d like to know more about, book a call with my team. We’ll talk with you about your situation, and if we can help you move your career through a challenging period and help you get ahead, we’ll let you know and share what that could look like. And, if for some reason, we’re not a fit to work together, we’ll do our best to introduce you to someone who is. You can schedule your free call here: https://www.zmcoach.com/apply