How to receive feedback

It can be difficult for those of us with neurodiverse tendencies to receive feedback. Feedback in the workplace tends to be negative. It appears most people are not good at pointing out when things go well. Yet everyone can spot when something could have been better. Even positive feedback can be hard to hear when struggling with imposter syndrome and low self-esteem.

Say thanks

Start by assuming positive intent. Regardless of whether the feedback is positive or negative frame your reaction on the assumption the person giving the feedback wants to help you to improve.

If the feedback was positive think about who you can share it with. Did other people help you achieve what has been remarked on? If so let the person giving the feedback know. Tell the people who helped you that your collective achievement has been noted. The great thing about feedback is that, unlike cake, you can share it around without diminishing how much you get.

You can build on this by expressing a desire for self-improvement. Considering how you can use this new information to get better at something shifts your internal response from receiving a dig to getting useful advice. This is covered in more detail in the book Mindset

Reflect on it

If you have thanked the person for the feedback there is nothing more to do at the moment. It is better to take some time and gather your thoughts than trying to explain why.

Consider the feedback you have received. Is it clear what to do better (or what to do more of if it was positive feedback)? Is it clear how to do better next time?

Is the feedback a specific instance of a more generic problem area? Is it an example of an underlying area for improvement. For example feedback on a late deliverable might be a specific instance of feedback which is actually about a need for a better way of managing your workload.

Decide how to act

Your response to feedback should be proportional to the magnitude of the feedback. If the feedback is that you are disruptive when you arrive late for meetings then your response might simply be to set off 10 minutes earlier and track how many meetings you get to on time.
If your feedback was a more vague area such as your body language is impacting your work relationships then you might need help. The first part of this might be discussing the feedback with the person who gave it to get a better understanding. You might then want to work with your line manager or a mentor to explore how to improve gradually over time.

If the feedback was from your boss I recommend going back to them with the steps you plan to take so that you can benefit from the feedback. As a manager, I am always really impressed when staff come back to me and say “thanks for letting me know about x, here is what I plan to do…”

Discussing your intent with your boss also gives them the opportunity to clarify what they meant, all focused on a better future state. Your boss is also likely to be the key to any extra resources you need to help act on your self-improvement plan.

It might be the feedback relates to an unusual situation that is really unlikely to reoccur. If so there is little value in investing time in making improvements – this is time that could be better invested elsewhere.

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