Consider the following two versions of feedback given by a boss, in response to an employee leaving errors in an important report for the Board:
- “I’ve gone over your report and found you didn’t include the sidebar paragraph that explains Figure 6 on page 18. Please add it in right away and get the revised report back to me. I need it to go out today and I need it to be complete and easy to understand.”
- “I’ve gone over your report and couldn’t believe how sloppy and unreliable you are to have submitted it without the sidebar paragraph that explains Figure 6 on page 18. I don’t know if you’re incompetent, don’t care about how we look to the Board, or are just plain lazy. Which ever one it is–or perhaps it’s all three–I’m seriously wondering whether you are the kind of person who has a future in our organization. Now get your sorry butt back to your desk and fix what should have never happened in the first place.”
Which version the staffer takes in is critical for how constructively he (she) responds to and uses this feedback. If the words that came out of his boss’s mouth were version #1 but what went into the employee’s ears and locked into his brain were the words of version #2, he would be CHOOSING to interpret the message as personal criticism, focused on him and not on his work, and sounding a heck of a lot like a parental reprimand.
All feedback offers us a virtuous (vs. vicious) cycle opportunity:
(A) Higher performing, more self-confident employees have a greater tendency to greet–even solicit–negative feedback as important information to help them improve. For example, in the above scenario, such an individual might treat it as an alert that, to be more impactful in his (her) job, he needs to pay more attention to the details of what he produces.
(B) At the same time, by habitually accepting and using so-called “negative” feedback as valuable information to help him improve, a less confident, lower performing individual can over time raise his capacity to perform (and succeed).
Here’s the success strategy lesson out of all this. Welcome all feedback as data points to help us get better. Then take action on that feedback where it makes good sense to.
Of course, no one ever said this is easy to do?