We’re coming upon midyear feedback time, and a colleague shared with me an interesting read on the subject, Thanks for the Feedback: The Science And Art of Receiving Feedback Well. It’s an interesting premise that addresses the impact of neuroscience on how and what we hear when we receive feedback. And that there’s an art to receiving it – part of which is the ability to reject it. Apparently this can be helpful with overbearing in-laws. As I read, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have taken the chance to reject the message from a years-ago feedback experience that sticks with me today.
I was in marketing at the time and presenting to our sales team during a days-long sales meeting. For anyone in sales or who knows someone in sales, you know asking this group to sit still in a conference room for hours at a stretch is pretty torturous. It’s like asking the cast of Hamilton to speak slowly. So, in the interest of keeping things light to have any semblance of holding their attention, I started off my presentation with a cartoon that loosely linked to our sales messaging. It got them laughing – mission accomplished. After the presentation, I gave myself a tiny mental high five.
Later that day, my boss’s boss pulled me aside to tell me that he thought I should use humor less, as it was taking away from my credibility and made me seem like a less credible, effective leader. I was incensed. This was someone who didn’t know me or the team well. And he was new to the company – so he couldn’t possibly know the culture. I came up with loads of reasons to reject his feedback and stew on it. And that’s where I remained for a while.
Finally, something, though that part escapes me, got me to think about what he said. In the end, I realized, he was right. And I heard related comments from my peers about others – distinguishing between ‘funny / entertaining’ and ‘great leader’. In some cases this was based on a first impression that changed over time. But of course, sometimes you get just that one.
I realized I didn’t have to be the funny person – where humor overshadowed what I really knew – to be heard. At first I thought his feedback meant I had to change who I was but I came to realize that what he was suggesting was not to change who I am but rather to take a more situational approach to using my sense of humor. It was a tough but really important learning. And while I didn’t appreciate the feedback at the time, I am incredibly appreciative of it now.
So while there are useful lessons in the book, it strikes me that like all useful tools (and here’s another), the danger comes with overuse. Early in my career I never really considered the option of rejecting feedback. With the benefit of more of it I’ve learned to pay closer attention to the source and motivation. It’s easy to react to feedback by focusing first and foremost on finding the flaw in the argument. But with the benefit of lots of hindsight – doing so is often a missed opportunity. In other words, use the gift receipt only after trying the gift on for size first.
The familiar radio voice riffed through a range of news stories on my short ride home from the gym one morning a couple of weeks ago (in retrospect, it was blissfully free of anything related to the FBI). I half listened as I usually do, still a bit out of breath and planning for my to do’s once I got home in order to get out the door on time. But as I pulled to a stop, I stared at the radio and shook my head. The story was about the outcome of the Turkish referendum on whether to increase Presidential powers – a vote which had narrowly won. However, election observers, whose role it is to opine on the fairness of such elections were questioning the fairness of the vote (for what certainly appears to be for good reason). And to these detractors, President Erdogan, a primary force behind the referendum, advised them, ‘Know your place.’
I thought about these 3 words. They struck me initially because of what they say about the state of Turkey’s democracy. But equally because in my day to day, it’s unusual for me to hear people say this to others but it’s all too common for many of us, as we climb the career ladder and shoot for bigger, broader and more interesting opportunities, to say this to ourselves.
“I haven’t done that part of the job before.” “I did that years ago and on a much smaller scale.” “I haven’t worked on that platform.” “My experience is in the non-profit / government / for profit sector and doesn’t really apply.” These are the explanations we often share with each other for why it isn’t ‘our place’ to put ourselves in the mix for the next opportunity. Our internal voices – the things we say to ourselves to justify staying put – are often many degrees more critical. And even more convincing.
I was reminded of a conversation with a friend who had been mentoring a woman with decades of branding experience with a well known Fortune 500 company. It was about the only company she’d worked for and she had gradually worked her way up into middle management but was feeling a bit stuck, so a mutual colleague introduced her to my friend for advice. After having her experience repositioned for her and hearing about the types of companies and roles that my friend suggested would benefit from the depth of her experience, this woman demurred. ‘Oh no, there’s no way I could go for THAT level role.’ I saw this woman’s profile. She was every bit qualified to take on THAT level role and more. My friend persisted – and gradually this woman saw a different take on her talents. This is yet one of countless examples of women I know – including the one in the mirror at times – who have pulled ourselves out of contention for roles that may – and should – stretch us but we feel ‘not quite qualified’ for.
So what to do when these ‘inner gremlins’ strike? Get another perspective – from a mentor / colleague / trusted friend – to differentiate reality from your inner doubting voice. CSweetener, supporting women aspiring to the C-suite, is a fantastic resource. (Disclosure – I’m a proud CSweetener mentor). Recognize when you ‘know your place’ all too well. When that happens, you’re likely ready to take on the next challenge ahead of you.