Women's Agenda: Why we need to be more selective when taking on unsolicited feedback - Michelle Gibbings

Thanks to Women’s Agenda for inviting Michelle to share her insights about receiving unsolicited feedback and why we need to be more selective about who and what we listen too.

Women often remark that they stop worrying about what people think of them as they get older. They’re less concerned about feedback, and more interested in living a life that’s true to them. Throughout our working day, we can have a lot of feedback thrown our way. Much of which can be unhelpful, even when shared with good intent. Unfortunately, unhelpful feedback can stick and hold you back.

It is effortless for people to share an opinion or feedback without a lot of thought attached to it. As researcher Dr Brené Brown says, there are millions of people sitting in the cheap seats hurling hurtful opinions and unhelpful commentary. For her, if the person providing the feedback isn’t out there taking risks and being courageous, their feedback isn’t worth listening to.

Many years ago, a leader talked to me about what she called ‘The forgetery’. It was the place where all unhelpful and useless feedback went to die.  Being true to yourself and having the career and life you want involves being wise and selective with the feedback you listen to and that which goes to the forgetery.

Be feedback selective

When you receive feedback look at it from two angles:

  • The intent of the person providing the advice or feedback. Is it delivered with good intent or otherwise?
  • The person’s skill or experience in the area they are providing the advice or feedback on. Do they have expertise or skill in the area they are commenting on?

If their intent is unhelpful, then this is an opportunity to learn more about that person, their needs and their agenda. When the feedback is delivered with good intent and from someone with valuable knowledge to share, you want to dig into the learnings. First, however, you may need to spend time recognising and accepting your emotions.

Manage the emotion

This approach isn’t about ignoring helpful feedback that is hard to hear. It’s about being strategic and managing your emotional reaction and energy when challenging feedback comes your way. Our brain is more attuned to negative events than positive events. Research shows that negative events stimulate us more and produce more rapid responses in terms of our thoughts and actions.

This hardwiring is evolutionary because being more attuned to adverse events was a useful survival tactic. This biological response remains and is active in today’s working world. Consequently, you are more likely to remember negative feedback than positive feedback.

You are also more likely to ‘react’. In ‘reaction’ mode, you are more likely to do or say something that won’t help you in the long run. Feeling annoyed, hurt, disappointed, or any other range of emotions is okay. Accept your feelings. Then you want to shift into ‘wise response’ mode. From this position, you can flip the lens you use to find the insights, understanding and next steps.

Decide your steps

Consider how the feedback helps you better understand yourself and your impact on others. Organisational Psychologist Tasha Eurich found that 95 per cent of people believe they are self-aware, even though only 10 to 15 per cent are. It takes effort to undertake an objective and non-biased assessment of ourselves, how we are seen, and our impact on others. So, you want to be open to feedback while judicious about what you listen to and what action you take.

Taking these steps requires you to reflect on the advice while listening to yourself so you can make a clear, conscious choice and decide the best way ahead. It takes courage to step beyond the opinions of others. When you put yourself in the driver’s seat, you take accountability for the direction and outcomes.

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