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Why We Really Hate Getting Feedback

Nick Dolding | Digital Vision | Getty Images

Feedback is like death -

1) You receive a 360 feedback report, describing what everyone at work really thinks about you.

Your first reaction: shock.

You see yourself one way, others another. That's the human condition.

I used to lead management workshops for a large consulting company, the Forum Corp, that included 360 feedback reports. Before distributing the feedback, we'd warn participants:

"You may not believe it's really your report," we'd say.

Later, after seeing the feedback, a few managers would demand we call Forum immediately: "You gave me the wrong report," they'd say. "It's got my name, but it's not mine."

2) Getting negative feedback threatens our self-image, our identity. Some experts compare it to dying.

Sound melodramatic? Well, let's just say you may not feel like kicking off your shoes and dancing on the tables.

3) Denial, depression, anger . . . These are stages of grief, according to psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. Also, typical feedback reactions.

4) Want a second opinion on your feedback? Ok, take it home, and ask your friends and family what they think.

Unfortunately, they'll probably agree with it.

Let's say you scored low on listening. Your spouse will say, "Honey, I've been saying that forever. You didn't listen to me yesterday. Or last Thursday. Or 2001-2010—the entire decade."

5) What are your strengths? Those often get missed, and they're extremely important.

One executive coach has clients read all the positive comments—aloud—just to make sure the clients actually hear them.

6) What's your next step?

Consider thanking people for their feedback. "Wait a minute," you may be thinking, "what, exactly, am I thanking them for?"

Well, for their time, and for their candor.

7) Another option: ask for some specific examples, especially if you don't understand something.

For instance: "When you say, 'I'm not open to new ideas,' what do you mean?"

Then just listen. Don't argue, and don't debate how open you really are. Demonstrate it.

8) You can also make a few promises.

For example: "I realize I need to work on my body language at meetings. I intend to stop rolling my eyes, and muttering under my breath."

Other person: "You also giggle uncontrollably."

You: "Ok, that too." Then ask: "Would it be alright to check back in a few weeks to see how I'm doing?"

9) It's possible, of course, that the entire feedback report is wrong, that others' perceptions are flawed.

There's comfort in that thought. It lasts about 5 seconds.

10) Because even if everyone's wrong, you've still got a problem: their perceptions.

And even if you think those perceptions are incomplete, ill-conceived, wrong-headed, bad-tempered, perverse, and idiotic—please see grief stages: anger—you've still got to manage them.

Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (www.expresspotential.com), Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is "Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy," and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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