What happens when we receive unsolicited feedback, feedback we weren’t prepared for, feedback that hurts the ego?
One of the best ways to grow as a professional – whether a seasoned employee or someone just entering the job market – is by applying feedback from friends, family, colleagues and superiors. We often receive feedback only when we ask for it, as people may be weary of offering it unsolicited.
There are, however, the brave souls who go out of their way to offer unsolicited feedback to a colleague or a friend, in order to help them improve and grow. What happens when we receive feedback we didn’t ask for, and didn’t know we needed?
Avoiding a shutdown
Receiving hard-to-stomach, unsolicited feedback about our performance, appearance or presentation skills, for example, can sometimes cause us to shut down as a mode of self-protection.
“What do you mean I was mumbling during that presentation?? I think you’re wrong.
I was pretty well-spoken!”
Our first reaction is often to counter the feedback in order to protect ourselves, typically by becoming defensive. For instance, if a colleague mentions that he or she noticed your shirt is wrinkled 4 out of 5 days of the week, you may be tempted to say something like: “Well, you know how busy I am and there are no dry cleaners close to me. Plus, it shouldn’t matter what I look like. What should matter is my productivity.”
Following the criticism, we often become defensive, come up with excuses or change the subject. These reactions are misplaced and detrimental to our growth.
How to apply unsolicited feedback
Hearing tough feedback – especially when you least expect it – can be bruising to the ego. It’s critical that the ego be left out as it blocks personal development.
Here are some tips to help you absorb, and apply, feedback that you didn’t ask for (and that you needed):
1. Always be in a “feedback mindset”.
At Corporate Class, we encourage our clients to always be in a “networking mindset”, that is, to be open to networking everywhere they go, like the grocery store, gym or the long line at Starbucks. The same applies to feedback. If people are consistently open and willing to receive feedback from others, they will never (or rarely) be taken off-guard.
2. Isolate and clarify
This sustained “feedback mindset” allows people to process unsolicited feedback when it comes. It is important that, if the feedback is unclear, individuals first isolate the point they don’t understand, and clarify what the person means.
3. Don’t take it personally
When a colleague, superior or friend offers you feedback you didn’t ask for, it means they care about you and want you to succeed. If you take the feedback personally, in a negative way, you’re missing out on a great self-improvement opportunity.
4. Practice, and then confirm
Changing behaviour with the hope of sustainability requires lots of practice. Take the feedback to heart, practice making the necessary changes, and confirm with those around you in a few weeks that they’ve noticed a change.
It’s wonderful when those around us, who care about our happiness and success, are bold enough to offer unsolicited feedback. It takes courage on their part to offer feedback in the first place. We should be courageous and accept the feedback with grace and humility. After all, our colleagues and friends are simply trying to help us get to where we know we belong.