Not all feedback is created equal

Feedback scale

Welcome to the first quarter – bitterly cold weather, short daylight hours, and annual performance reviews! Time for some reflections on the value of receiving feedback. Giving feedback is another topic, but not sure I can beat Thryn’s post on giving your cat its annual performance review.

I grew up being taught, as are all good little Minnesotans, that the ultimate goal is to be nice and make everyone happy. Enter the real working world. You can never make everyone happy. I repeat, you can never make everyone happy. So quit trying and move on to goals that you can reach.

Feedback by definition is neither positive or negative. It is merely information. And we all know that information = power. Feedback tells you important information on how your actions and abilities are perceived by others. Once you receive feedback, it is ultimately up to you whether you take a piece of feedback and put it into action.


Sources of feedback

We receive feedback every day from a wide variety of sources, and not just at annual performance time. Some hypothetical examples:

Scenario 1: My cat woke me up 5am for play time.

Feedback: “You didn’t play with me enough yesterday; therefore, I will wake you up for some additional playtime at my convenience. You have room for improvement in attentiveness as a cat boss.”

Scenario 2: My boss asked me to put a strategy deck in a new format.

Feedback: “You have great content but I am not sure the format will resonate with this audience. You have room for improvement in flexing your communication style to be a better influencer.”

Prioritizing feedback as an art

So, how do you know which feedback to take? For feedback to be valid and immediately actionable, I look at the following:

Is the feedback from a credible, trusted source? Do you have an established relationship with the person giving you feedback based on good intent, trust, mentorship or shared objectives? If so, it is likely important feedback.

Is this a one-time occurrence or a pattern of feedback? If you have received similar feedback from others at multiple points in time, it is likely feedback that is important. If it is a one-time occurrence – examine whether the feedback is specific to person or company culture and tailor your approach accordingly.

Will not taking the feedback prevent you from making progress? If not taking the feedback will derail a project or career trajectory, by all means, take the feedback pronto.


Parting tips on effectively receiving feedback

As you prepare for your annual performance review or ongoing feedback discussions, below are some tips:

  • Thank the person for taking the time to give you honest feedback
  • Always assume good intent and that the feedback is being given to help you be more successful
  • If any of the feedback is unclear, ask for examples and pose clarifying questions
    • Some of my favs: “in situation x, how would you have approached it differently?”, “can we brainstorm some different options for how I could approach situation x in the future?”
  • Pick 1-2 pieces of feedback at a time to work on and develop concrete steps/actions; ask your boss or colleague to hold you accountable
  • To get comfortable with receiving feedback, make it a more frequent occurrence.  At the end of every project/meeting, ask your colleagues “what is one thing I could have done better?”


And now for the obligatory Powerpoint:

Working with Feedback

2 Replies to “Not all feedback is created equal”

  1. People, especially in today’s climate, often confuse feedback with criticism. But it is not transitive like that. All criticism is feedback but not all feedback is criticism and that is hard for people to understand. Many look for the bad in what a person is giving them feedback on and not the good.
    If more people looked at taking the positive out of each situation and discussion, they would be much happier and do much better work.

    Great article!

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