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  • Writer's picturekatie

When feedback gets personal, here's what to do.

As we progress in our careers, feedback gets more... personal.

Suddenly, the feedback isn't just about the work we're producing. It's about US. How we communicate, how we lead, how we act. Our very being! Our personality!

We're often not prepared for this shift in feedback because it feels so personal. It can be really hard to hear. And that type of feedback can feel a bit like an attack, especially if we haven't had much practice receiving and addressing it. Often, we are left wondering if we're safe, and if we have any ability to change. We feel unsure if we can change who we inherently "are." 

Learning to receive this type of feedback and act upon it is an essential part of being a leader.

And, there's a big secret: you CAN change how you show up. Even if you believe it's just "who you are." Even if you've been doing things that way for years and years. 

Here is an example, with some actions to take embedded in. This is a totally fictional story, not based in anyone's real life experience (DEFINITELY NOT ME).  Let's call this fictional woman Shmatie. Again, she's totally fake and totally not based on anyone I know or may be. 

Shmatie got some feedback about coming off as defensive in meetings: about the work they were doing, about her team, and about their ideas. She could be a bit reactive. Her emotions were pretty visible. 

Now at first, Shmatie felt really pissed off by this feedback. She felt threatened. She felt attacked. She dismissed it. But she got it a few more times from people she respected and trusted and looked up to at work.  And instinctively, she knew that it was true. 

The lesson: When you get feedback about yourself or your style, sometimes it's worth acting on and sometimes it's worth shelving. Here's how to evaluate: 1. Is this something you've heard before? Is it consistent? 2. Do you trust or respect the person who is delivering the feedback? 3. Feel into this - does it feel true for you? If yes to the above... it's worth addressing.

Shmatie was worried. She'd always been an emotional person. She was naturally quite defensive because she cared so much and wanted to do a good job. She didn't know if she could change. 

When Shmatie thought about it... she knew it was important to work on this. She would be better able to hear others ideas without taking them as a threat. She would be able to roll with changes without taking them personally. She would build stronger relationships with those around her and be able to be more flexible. All of these would be good things. 

The lesson: Before making a change to your 'style' at work, get clear on WHY you're doing it. If there isn't a compelling why, you won't change. How will this change benefit your day to day work? Your relationships? Your career? Spend some time answering these questions and honing in on what will be most motivating for you.

Over the course of time, Shmatie was able to work through her defensiveness. She was able to become aware of the triggers that made her feel defensive, and notice when it was happening. Instead of just reacting, she could choose differently. Shmatie was able to see that her defensiveness was just a reaction. It wasn't who she was. It was part of the personality she had cultivated to keep herself 'safe.' It had helped her get this far, but now it was time to find a new way of being. She was able to see this as a separate part of herself and learn how to evolve beyond it. She didn't need it to keep her safe anymore. The underlying fear she was rebelling against was that she had to be right to be safe.

Of course, Shmatie had a lot of help in this. She read lots of books and worked with a coach. Even today, she, in her fictional not real life, has to work on this. But she feels much more secure in herself, much less on edge and afraid that at any moment the 'shoe will drop' and she will be seen as a bad performer or lose her job or worse.  She knows that she doesn't need to take everything personally. She knows that she can let things slide or let others take the lead, and have faith it will all work out as best it can. She lets other people make their mistakes. 

The lesson: First and foremost, become aware of what triggers the behavior you're working on. Spend some time thinking about what you're trying to prevent by using that behavior in those situations. Then, pay attention when the feelings of that behavior start to come up for you. Awareness is 75% of the work. The other 25% is choosing differently instead of just reacting.  Working with a coach or doing some reading are great ways to continue to grow through your feedback. This is an ideal time to get more insight into who you are, why you act the way you do, and what beliefs or fears might be driving that part of your behavior. A coach or a good toolset can help you break down and replace those beliefs with new ones that will enable you to break the pattern of behavior.

None of us are alone in this. We will get feedback of this type in our professional lives. Think of it as a nudge from your higher powers/peoples to continue on our growth challenge. We are all inherently perfect but we lose our relationship to our perfection early in life. The work is about bringing ourselves back to that. We all have our undoings to do. No one is immune. 

Will you accept the invitation?


katie and bryce

p.s. I am Shmatie, and Shmatie is me.

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