Emotions Aren’t Good Drivers

As the group gathered for a workshop, one young woman made a grand entrance. She marched into the room, slammed her bag on a table and made quite a show of slamming herself into the chair. She had a “don’t-you-dare-ask-me” look on her face, so of course…I asked. (Isn’t that what don’t-ask looks are really for?)

She had just come from a little sit down with her supervisor (who was described in the most colorful terms). The chat hadn’t gone well. Apparently her boss had recited a list of criticisms – which in this employee’s head sounded like, “Do more. Do it better. Do it faster.”

I wasn’t at the meeting with her boss, so I can’t fairly comment on how effectively the performance message was delivered. I can speak to the employee’s response. She was deliberately climbing on the “gotcha” wheel and preparing to give it a real spin.

This employee left the meeting plotting her sweet revenge. She would document everything and everyone. She would keep careful lists about who was doing what (and who wasn’t). Her plan was to highlight the errors and shortcomings of her supervisor and colleagues. When I asked how that would improve her brand she shrugged, “This documentation will give me the ammunition I need the next time my boss wants to discuss my performance.”

Ammunition? (Are you kidding me? We aren’t in a gunfight here!)

Coming from a purely emotional place, her strategy was to defend and deflect the feedback. Being right in this situation required proving others wrong, and standing taller meant knocking others down. Her plan was purely reactive and filled with malice. (I’ve never known good things to come from bad intentions.)

We will all have the opportunity to manage critical feedback in our lives. It may be at work or at home, spoken or implied. We may not agree with the feedback we receive from others; that’s okay. Agreement isn’t the goal. Understanding and responding effectively to the feedback is.

Here are five strategies for processing feedback effectively. (This comes with an invitation. What would you add to the list? What is your best advice for making the most of feedback?)

  1. Resist the temptation to argue or defend. Ask questions with a sincere goal to understand where the feedback is coming from.
  2. Remember the feedback is not you, but it is yours. You will ultimately decide what to do with it. You are in the driver’s seat.
  3. Feedback is perception-based. If you can locate the perception, you can manage it. That is a very good thing! Instead of focusing on the criticism, focus on what you can do to manage the perception.
  4. Look for patterns and trends in the feedback you’re receiving. If for example you have a communication breakdown with one person, it may be an isolated incident. It happens. If you are surrounded by a flurry of miscommunication, you may need to take a closer look at your own messages! The problem may not be “them!”
  5. Manage the emotional environment of feedback by thanking the giver. This can be very challenging, especially if you disagree or if the feedback hurts. (This tip belongs on the list of things that you won’t feel like doing when it matters the most.) Again, agreement isn’t the goal here. You might simply say, “Thank you for sharing your perspective.”

In my next blog, I’ll share the rest of the story – how this employee turned negative feedback into a launching pad for positive results. In the meantime I would love you to weigh in with your best managing feedback tip.

You were designed for success and built to grow!








In the workplace, proceed with real caution in “balancing the (value) account.”