I’ve heard that question quite a few times after I shared my feedback with somebody: “What am I supposed to do with such feedback?”
The question may imply that feedback e.g. wasn’t “actionable” or something. Anyway, I have an answer for that. It goes:
“Whatever the hell you want.”
Yup. Exactly that. In fact this is precisely what I’d love you to do.
As the opposite to: getting defensive, explaining yourself, finding excuses, bringing other interpretations, and so on and so forth.
Feedback is not an attack. You don’t need to defend yourself. It isn’t an interrogation either. You don’t need to explain yourself. And most of all it isn’t a goddamn appraisal. You don’t need to maximize the score.
It is feedback. I’m sharing some observations and opinions that somehow relate to your work, actions, behaviors, attitude, etc.
I don’t intend to change you. I want to provide you with more information so that your decisions about your further course of action are informed better. You can disagree with the part or the whole of the message you get. You can interpret it in a vastly different way. You can confront that with other feedback that is contrary to mine. That is all just perfect. You can ignore it altogether and I’m still fine with that.
Remember? Whatever the hell you want.
The reason is I know it is subjective. No matter how much I try to make it factual it is always about interpreting facts. And I don’t try to make it purely factual. In fact, the system in knowledge work is built of people and interactions between these people. How objective can “facts” about interpersonal relationships be? Is there even an objective truth there? Or is it rather a combination of interpretations that can be more or less aligned one with the other?
So no, I’m not trying to convince you that my point is even valid. It’s how I perceive specific situation and how I feel. Oh, it isn’t factual, someone would say. Well, the fact is that I perceive and I feel so and so. Do you want to discuss with such a fact? Didn’t think so.
I am well aware that my perceptions and my feelings aren’t universal truths. That’s why it is you who decide what to do with the feedback or whether to do anything at all.
There is the other part of the story. I sometimes receive feedback and I’m like “Thank you. I’m not going to change that.” What I see as a reaction is that someone is either discouraged or even pissed off with my reaction.
I mean, they did expect me to comply with what they shared with me. I don’t differentiate here feedback on work I do from feedback on my behaviors. It’s just, for whatever reasons, I decide that I don’t want to change that specific thing.
That doesn’t make me any less grateful for feedback I got by the way.
It’s just that now we turned the tables. Now it’s: Whatever the hell I want.
If you want to make me compliant with whatever just make it explicit. At least we’ll have common understanding.
Feedback’s role, the way I perceive it, is not compliance. It is providing information about one’s behaviors, actions and attitudes and their impact. It is, as its name suggests, about feeding one back with information, not about changing one or making them doing what somebody else want them to do.
If you give me feedback with a clear intention to change me or even worse to make me do what you want you are likely to end up being disappointed.
It will happen despite the fact that I treat that feedback as factual and fair. It is factual since fact is that you think and feel whatever you think and feel. It is fair for the very same reason.
At the same time it is subjective. Objective feedback, as long as it touches interactions between people, is a mirage. Or an oxymoron. Stop pursuing objectivity. To make it clear: it doesn’t make such feedback any less valuable.
Once we understand that it enables the whole new level of discussing feedback both ways.
Ultimately it’s: “I share that with you. Do whatever the hell you want with this.”
And: “Thank you for sharing. I will do whatever the hell I want with this, indeed.”
Only then it truly is valuable feedback.