When we receive critical feedback or a bad review, ideally it is partnered with on-going and actionable feedback from our manager that can help us move forward productively.
What should we do if the feedback isn’t very clear?
Sometimes, it’s difficult to provide actionable feedback. The WHAT we do could be fine, but HOW we do it may need some work. If we say and do all the right things, we can still be perceived negatively. It may be difficult for our manager to help us understand why and what to do about it.
Vague feedback is easy to ignore
Vague feedback can be very frustrating. Years ago, I was told I made “some people” feel uncomfortable. When I pushed, there was no specific incident, nothing I said or did, and no contacts that I could speak with for more information.
With no specifics, I asked the question I was most concerned about: “Do I step on people or treat them poorly in my attempts to move things forward?”
The answer was “No. Your team, customers and partners all respect you and the way you interact with them.”
So I dismissed the feedback.
Bad idea. The feedback was still be meaningful, IF I could figure out what it meant and what to do about it. It took many years, and input from an executive coach, but I finally figured it out.
Not all of our behavior is externally visible
93% of all communication is non-verbal.
No matter how well we think we play poker, or use words that won’t be misconstrued, what we think is still visible. Whether it’s our body language saying “What a joker” or our facial expressions indicating “I’ll let you have your say and then I’m going to go do what I want.”
Others can see and hear our internal dialogue, or thoughts. Even if we are saying all the right things out loud. While there is nothing tangible they can point to – “She said ….” – yet they are left with a feeling that is less than pleasant.
Unfortunately, this is a challenging topic to handle during discussions with our manager. There is nothing concrete to point to. We may have said and done all the right things.
However, if others still feel slighted, dismissed, or diminished, their perception is very real. And must be addressed.
It would be easy to dismiss, particularly if our manager does not know how to communicate the issue. I inadvertently received help through executive coaching. In my candidness with my coach, she was able to identify a lack of compassion that was bleeding out in my interactions.
Since then, I’ve been able to help others assess and adjust their internal dialogue. Employees who had historically received vague feedback finally had something actionable to work on – and it has done wonders for their effectiveness and interpersonal engagement.
Our internal dialog matters
If you’ve ever received vague feedback about how you “make people feel” during interactions, I’d like you to ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you consider yourself to be more effective, knowledgeable, and/or competent than your manager? Your co-workers? Your customers?
- Are you so focused on your own work that you fail to help others if the need arises? Alternatively, are you so quick to help others that you fail to get your own work done on time?
- Do you compare yourself to your peers regularly, worrying about how much more work you get done, or how much more complex it is?
- Are you convinced that you deserve a promotion because of how long you’ve been in the role or how much more you do relative to others at the next level?
If the answer to any of these is “Yes” – you may have an internal dialog that is incongruent with engaging others in a compassionate way. While you may use the right words in your interactions, your non-verbal communication may be dismissive, impatient, or closed off in some way.
All of us want to feel valued. While our work needs doing, we can get more done with others than we can alone.
If we close ourselves off, or put ourselves above/ahead of those around us, they are less likely to want to work with us. We know when we matter to those around us. And when we don’t.
Changing how we think changes how we interact
There are three steps to changing our thinking:
1. Be Aware
In order to improve our internal dialog, we have to be aware of what it’s saying. The next time you struggle to achieve your objective during a meeting, or struggle to receive feedback, consider what was going through your head.
2. Stop and Think
Next, consider how you could think differently about the person you’re interacting with. They may not know what you know. So what? They may have another skill or ability you could benefit from learning about. They likely bring different value to the table.
Ask for manager or peer feedback. If possible, have them sit in a meeting they would not otherwise participate in. The intent is for them to watch you and the rest of the folks in the room to read the interactions.
Following the meeting, getting a debrief can help identify specific opportunities for improvement. “When you said x in response to John’s comment, did you see that he stopped contributing? I think he felt shut down.”
Compassion in practice
Sometimes, a little compassion is all we need. A former team member of mine came to me about a poor review. He had always been a top performer, and suddenly he had a mark on his record. It was about his interactions with others, with no specific feedback.
He wondered whether he should pursue another role. While he was discussing his work, he focused on himself, and shared little positives regarding his customers and co-workers.
I observed that he was mentally dismissing the perspectives of those around him. Even though he asked for input, he wouldn’t get it. Likely because others felt their opinions wouldn’t be considered, causing resentment and frustration.
With the feedback in hand, he was able to approach interactions differently. He shifted his mindset, considering the opportunity for others to develop. By thinking of himself as a mentor vs an expert, it allowed him to engage his customers and colleagues in a positive way.
The mental shift resulted in improved outcomes and feedback, completely reversing concerns expressed in the prior review.
Managers can provide valuable input to our careers and development, but they are ultimately ours to manage. If our manager cannot provide the specific feedback we desire, it is time to look inward and consider a change in thinking to get a change in results.
Have you experienced an inner dialogue that negatively impacted relationships or outcomes? Please share your thoughts or experience in the comments. Also, if you liked the article, consider sharing it on social media.