When you are on the job, feedback comes in a wide range of forms–from quarterly business reviews and annual evaluations to flaming emails, recognition certificates and snarky side comments.
Critiques may come from co-workers, subordinates, or customers. Amazon, eBay, Zappos and many other retailers actually ask for in-depth feedback on every transaction.
Most of the best people I know at their jobs ask for feedback regularly. But even well-intended feedback can sometimes be counter-productive. How do you sort out the feedback necessary to improve from the damaging digs that may undermine your confidence?
Assess the Comment Itself
When you get strong feedback–whether positive or negative–ask yourself these four questions before using the feedback to change your actions:
1. Is it proportional? When the feedback feels like a sledgehammer on a thumbtack–whether it's overreaction to a small issue or an Oscars-level gush for a simple service–then you have feedback out of proportion. Address it at the individual level, but don't worry about making policy changes.
2. Is it emotional or factual? Emotional feedback has a tendency to be personal in nature and tone. It may have more to do with how the person feels about you (or about himself). On the other hand, factual feedback is great for directing you to real changes or rewards.
3. Helpful or hurtful? Is the intent of the feedback to make things better or to damage? Damaging feedback needs to be addressed factually and in a contained way. Helpful feedback leads organizations and people to get better.
4. Does it have the ring of truth? Often the greatest internal resistance follows comments with the ring of truth. If you are feeling defensive, it is possible the feedback hit a nerve.
Are You Overreacting?
Next, ask yourself a few questions about your reaction–because that, too, will help you figure out how to process comments.
5. Are you open or defensive? It’s a fair question. I know many people who are as quick to shrug off compliments as they are to deflect criticism. Either behavior can keep you from connecting to the feedback. How open are you to beneficial comments?
6. Are you personal or objective? When you are building a company, it can be tricky to separate yourself from your business or work. This causes entrepreneurs to become really exaggerated in their responses: “Nobody says my baby is ugly!” or “Everybody loves our products!” Cool down. You are not your company, and one person's experience is neither a declaration of love or a swipe at your personal integrity. You shouldn't ignore it–but you don't need to take it personality.
7. Are you taking each comment separately? Plenty of times you may get feedback when you are in the midst of addressing the very issue being brought up. It may feel like critics are piling on just as you are working very hard on a fix. But remember to take each comment individually: For you it may feel like a last straw, but each complaint probably signals a new person’s first experience with the problem.
8. Are you focused on the feedback, or the source? You may be inclined to expect certain kinds of feedback only from specific people–your peers, your customers. When a comment comes from the wrong person, you may feel that the person is out of line. But the real question should be “Is the feedback valid?”–not “Who does she think she is?”
Over time, you are going to get a lot of feedback. It's a great way for you to improve your business. Just make sure you know how to prioritize comments and turn them into positive change, using these questions to get a clear view of what is valid and valuable.