I recently got some pretty hard-to-hear feedback from my supervisor. It was really unexpected because I work really hard to get it right every single time. It’s completely rocked my confidence and I’m worried my boss thinks differently of me now. In the meeting when I got the feedback, I didn’t handle it well. I got defensive and left his office crying. How do I bounce back from this?
Dear Corporate Crier,
You are not alone. I see this a lot in the young leaders that I work with today, particularly women. We’re forced to grapple with our internal perfectionists and societal pressure to be “perfect” and get it right every time, the first time. We worry that our need for feedback or input makes us look incompetent, incapable, and less skilled than our male peers. We see all of it as a referendum on our potential. We can crumble under the weight any feedback, difficult questions, or challenge to our work or our ideas.
When I was in graduate school, I had a supervisor I loved working with. His name is Jeremiah, and I’d describe him as a maximizer. He’d always look for ways to take something and make it better. This is one of the traits I appreciate about him most, but I would also find myself getting frustrated a lot because of it.
I often plop down in a comfy chair in his office, jacked up on a new idea I wanted to run past him. By the point I was bringing the idea to him, I already felt good about the idea and was there more to seek his approval than to hear his feedback. Because it’s who he is, he couldn’t help giving me suggestions, poking holes or telling me a different way I could approach whatever my big new idea was.
So most of the time, I’d march into his office with a deep sense of pride and ownership of my idea, and I’d leave with tears of frustration welling up in my eyes. Getting feedback like this from him often felt like a referendum on me as a leader and on my ideas. Then I end up festering, sulking and blaming myself for not having the idea more thought out before bringing it to him. Eventually, I would realize that his suggestions had merit and his ideas were helpful. I’d eventually take the feedback and make my ideas even better.
It’s also human nature to be highly protective of our own ideas. We want the “credit,” we want to be seen as the “thought leader,” or we want the pat on the back from someone who sees we’ve done a good job.
I’m here to remind you, however hard to hear, that the best outcomes come from when we get in the sandbox with others and play with our ideas, allowing people to add, subtract, and edit them until a new (and often better) idea emerges.
It’s really easy to take feedback and challenge personally and let it impact you negatively. But don’t. When people take the time to offer feedback, share additional ideas, ask more questions, or even challenge your thinking – it means they care. It means they’re invested in you enough to take the time to give you the feedback, ideas, or ask more questions. They’re invested in making you and your ideas better. See it as a good thing. Believe that they’re invested in helping you be better instead of simply placating you with a “looks good” and pushing you out of their office.
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