How to Constructively Use Feedback at Work

Have you ever met someone who looks forward to their performance review? I haven't. Actually, most reviews at work are viewed as a necessary administrative hurdle that managers use to check a box off their list. At one of my former jobs, annual review paperwork was filled out by supervisors, tied to salary increases, and submitted before any meeting between the employee and supervisor occurred. How's that for two-way communication?

It's really unfortunate that so many companies approach reviews like this because it sets up employees devalue and dismiss the feedback given in these exchanges. Whatever experience you may have had with reviews it's important to remember that asking for feedback allows us to grow and become better, more valuable, and more desirable employees.

asking for feedback
asking for feedback

Why are we terrified of feedback?

I recently met with a friend who's also a small business owner. We were talking websites, branding, and blogging. And then she asked me, "So who gives you feedback on your site?"

I was like, "Huh?" I didn't want feedback. I had worked for months to get my brand's image to where it was that hearing someone else's opinion, especially if it was different than mine, felt like it would be catastrophic and deeply personal. In that moment, though, I realized as long as I was purposely avoiding feedback, I was cutting off my opportunity to improve.

I'm not going to lie - it feels really scary to lay it all out there for someone, especially when you're a perfectionist in a world where we're constantly fighting to get ahead of each other.

Bottom line: We're all our own worst critic and because of that we assume the worst case scenario.

What happens when we don't ask for feedback?

When we're so scared of defeat, sometimes it feels like we have to put on an act to showwe know exactly what we're doing all the time...without help from anyone else. Raise your hand if you've been there.

In the process we isolate ourselves those around us. While we think we're being courageous and bootstrapping it, others view us as being shut off to improving, learning, and changing.

How to use feedback to grow

Asking for feedback makes us vulnerable. Is that a bad thing? According to esteemed researcher, Brené  Brown, it actually makes us courageous. Please watch her amazing TED Talk. It will change your life.

You can use feedback as a check-in on how your perceptions line up with others' by following these steps:

  1. Rather than waiting for feedback once a year, try to schedule regular check-ins with your boss and colleagues to track your progress. This will allow you to make small pivots in your work rather than clumping all of your efforts into a single evaluation.
  2. View it as a conversation rather than a punishment. Explain your challenges and why you approached your work the way you did. This allows the dialogue to be centered around your desire to improve and support your organization, rather than self-promotion and self-defense.
  3. Avoid comparing yourself to your co-worker(s). It's so easy to get competitive with co-workers. "Why can she get away with it when my boss is always on my back?" I'm all too familiar with this question. I also know these kind of thoughts aren't useful because I'll never know the full story. Focus on your own progress, because that's what you have control over.
  4. Pay attention to whether your intentions and perceptions are matching up. Maybe you think you're rocking it out on a project, but your boss thinks you aren't allocating your time wisely. It's important to address this so that you can adjust your effort accordingly while still meeting mutual goals.

When feedback turns into criticism

I won't lie; my outlook on life is not all sunshine and butterflies. I'm a realistic. And that means recognizing that not all feedback you get is going to be constructive.  It's up to you to decide whose opinion matters.

There are definitely people out there who will knock you down to feel better about themselves. Entrepreneur, Jason Zook recently said on a podcast, "Even if 100 people say yes, the one that says no is what you're going to focus on." Isn't this true!? He goes on to explain that when this happens you need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Does this person's opinion matter?
  2. Is this person projecting their own fears on you?

Don't make excuses for being who you're not. And don't let other people's opinions distract you from your goals. Asking for feedback might be scary - and even painful - but it's also the most direct path to thriving in the workplace.

Tell me about a time you went in expecting the worstbut were surprised by the outcome.