If feedback is a gift, then why is it so hard to receive?

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My company has a feedback tool which gives me the ability to provide or request feedback from others. I can provide feedback free form or request from a set of stock questions, such as:

  • What am I doing well?

  • What should I stop doing?

I have to admit, I was taken aback the first time I received a request to provide feedback from a coworker after a project we completed together. I had not heard of the feedback system yet and was immediately filled with anxiety. Most places I’ve worked previously saved their feedback for annual reviews, if that even happened or if feedback on others was solicited it was usually to build a case for their demise. No thank you, I don’t want a part in that!

I quickly closed out of the email and avoided it. Avoided the opportunity to tell the person what an amazing job they did. Avoided the “What should I stop doing?” question because I honestly couldn’t think of anything.

Then I learned a little more about the system. I was told we should ask for feedback often from our team members because it helps with annual reviews. Hello stressed out. Now I’m in constant fear of my feedback. I want to grow but I definitely don’t want it to hold back my career. All my bad qualities raced through my head, “You’re too quiet.” “You don’t speak up enough in meetings.” “You’re not smiling enough.” “You learn slower than the rest of the team.”

I was paralyzed by feedback I’ve never received, only the thoughts in my own head.

Real-time feedback and coaching promotes learning. When feedback is connected to compensation, feedback is muted, distorted, and given less frequently.

Jennifer Hyman

My First Feedback

I received my first piece of feedback while I was on vacation. The automated email flashed on my phone as I explored an antique store in Waco, Texas. It was an amazing day! I spent the morning at Magnolia Table and the afternoon shopping at Magnolia Market where Chip Gaines of Fixer Upper paid for my entire purchase! Then the email, instant dread filled my body. I knew it had to be bad. I could feel my body sink to the floor.

My whole demeanor changed and I began shake. “Ugh!” I thought. i knew I promised this person I’d send them a summary email when I landed and I didn’t do it. It had to be what the feedback was about. I blew it. I let him down. I had let the team down. I decided to not look at the feedback until I got back to the office the next week. Ya know what? It haunted me over my vacation. I should have just looked at it. If it was about the email, bam punch in the face, it stings a little lesson learned.

Instead, I waited until I got back to the office to read a wonderful compliment about my great work on our project. Had I just read the feedback, it would have been the icing on my already awesome day!

Beers with the Bosses

Since I enter the tech field, my bosses generally never talked to me. As long as I did my work, we’d chat at an occasional one-on-one, if it wasn’t blown off, or a review. I wouldn’t say my bosses were ever swinging by to chat me up or whatever. Needless to say, if it wasn’t regularly scheduled programming, if boss wanted to talk to me I was usually in trouble for something, and it was probably lame.

Fast forward to my current company, the one I’ve been talking about with the feedback system. The three leaders of our team invited my out for beers after work. I accepted the invitation but my brain started in again. I must have really messed up something for them to have to take me out and talk to me. I search my brain but can’t come up with anything. I start to worry more.

My boss, my ex-boss and I head to the bar. Their boss the Managing Director is caught in a meeting and will join later. I order I cider and notice I shake as I attempt to drink it. We casually talk about our upcoming weekends. The pressure builds in my chest. My boss texts his boss for an ETA. Ah, he must have to wait for him before they address the issue.

Finally, the Managing Director arrives, sits down, and starts talking about the meeting he was in. We talk about our families and dogs and sports all the while I’m shake within the center of my body and try to control it. I just want to scream, “Tell me what the heck I did wrong!”

Each of them finishes their drinks, closes out the tab and we all wish each other a nice weekend. And just like that they’re gone. I’m left walking to the train station bewildered. I hadn’t done anything wrong, they just wanted to grab a drink with me. Once again, I ruined the present experience because I was worried about the feedback I thought I would receive.

The Future is Feedback

Feedback is truly a gift. Sometimes it does feel like a punch in the face. Other times, it clicks and propels you forward. My companies feedback system isn’t a perfect system. Since, the each feedback transaction sends a copy to the person’s boss it becomes more of a “Kudos Collection” than anything. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my kudos but there’s definitely the fear of the permanent record.

I want to grow and develop my skills. I think instead of the question, “What should I stop doing?” we should be able to put in our own questions for growth, for example:

  • I want to be a better public speaker, do you see areas where I can improve?

  • I want to be a better facilitator, what’s holding me back?

  • I want to be an Architect, what skillsets do I need?

I have always thrived on actionable steps, plans and goals to get the next steps. Feedback should be a tool to help us realize our best selves.

If you found this helpful, I’d love it if you’d like it and share it with your network!

Kelli Mohr