27 September 2023

Learning from an unflattering evaluation

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Some old papers from her corporate days reminded May Busch* that she should never take negative feedback at face value.

I was going through some old papers and came across a 360-degree feedback evaluation from my corporate days.

There it was, staring me in the face — two colour-coded pie charts.

On the left, my glowing self-evaluation; on the right, the less-than-flattering evaluation from everyone else.

Then all the specific comments and detailed ratings.

All the shame and shock from more than a decade ago came flooding back.

I remember being in tears after I opened the sealed packet and turned the page to find this feedback.

It was awful.

All I could think of was: I suck.

How could I face everyone back at the office? How would I ever live this down? Could I even redeem myself? Or were they going to fire me?

Never mind that I had already been promoted 10 times in my career and had been selected for this leadership development program for high achieving women.

I’ll share what happened to me in a moment, but first let’s talk about you.

Have you ever had negative, soul-crushing feedback at work? If so, here are three steps I found useful to handle it like a pro.

Allow yourself to grieve

Getting tough feedback is, well, tough.

They say not to take things personally, but when it’s feedback about who you are and how you’re showing up at work, it’s hard not to.

The emotional hurt is real and acknowledging it is the first step of moving forward.

Give yourself permission to be upset for a while, but don’t stew on it alone.

Talk to people who love and support you and cry if it makes you feel better.

There’s usually a kernel of wisdom in the feedback.

The trick is to find it.

Decide what that ‘kernel of wisdom’ is

Now it’s time to step back and read through the feedback with a more critical thinking part of your brain.

In my case, it was talking things through with a fellow program participant.

Then one of the coaches helped me interpret the feedback and extract the useful nuggets.

As we sifted through the data and comments together, I started to recognise patterns of behaviour that were true for me even back in school days.

As painful as it was, I’m grateful for the feedback as I wouldn’t have gained these insights otherwise.

The key is to give yourself time to absorb the information and make sense of it.

That means using the executive thinking part of your brain, not the ‘fight-or-flight’ part that’s trying to protect you from perceived threats.

You can do this on your own, with the help of a trusted friend or coach, or some combination.

Take steps and act

When you’re in motion, you’ll feel better about yourself.

Action helps you move past the emotional hurt and grow into being your best self, more of the time.

For me, the first step was to repair my relationships.

When I took on the new role, I charged in with my new ideas and tried to drive change without taking into account the longstanding culture, processes and systems that had been working just fine for years.

While my behaviour might have been acceptable back in my former work environment, here I showed up as the proverbial bull in a china shop.

That first month after the offsite was filled with one-to-one coffees, lunches or breakfasts with each colleague.

I thanked them for taking the time to share their feedback.

I shared what I learned and we talked about how I could be a better partner.

Most importantly, I finally took the time to listen and learn more about them.

When you receive challenging feedback like I did, it’s a wake-up call to examine how you’re being in the world.

Are you really operating at your best? What’s causing your worst self to show through?

The purpose isn’t to squash you or turn you into someone you’re not.

You have the choice of what you do with the feedback.

So turn it into something positive and lift yourself to the next level of how you show up in the world.

As an added benefit, you’ll have gained insight into how those around you think and feel.

*May Busch works with smart entrepreneurs and top managements to build their businesses. She can be contacted at [email protected].

This article first appeared at maybusch.com.

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