Consider this likely familiar situation:
You were recently assigned to a very intriguing project, one that you have been anticipating for quite some time. While putting the finishing touches on the final presentation, you decide to share your excitement with a colleague. To your surprise, the colleague is very critical and offers unsolicited advice that includes formatting, approach and everything else in between. You are flustered; after feeling very good about your presentation, doubt is seeping in.
We have all been there. Someone unexpectedly drops an unsolicited feedback bomb, leaving us feeling confused, doubtful and even angry. Some of us ruminate, others quickly move on. We may even capriciously do everything we can to prove the feedback wrong. We soon realize that our reactions are more damaging than the feedback itself. There has to be another way.
So what is the best course of action to navigate unsolicited feedback. Three steps to take:
1) Avoid jerk reactions. This is a difficult habit to form, but practice makes perfect. If your first instinct is to respond to the feedback, do the opposite. Don’t immediately internalize the feedback. Do take a few breaths and listen. Instead of arguing, try responding with one of the following neutral statements:
That’s interesting input. Thanks.
Thanks. I will will try to take that into consideration.
Responding in a neutral tone with the fewest words possible will buy you the time and space to process the feedback. Once you give yourself a minute to calm down, you will be more objective and can move on to the next step.
2) Prioritize understanding the person’s perspective over the feedback.
Once you have a minute to calm down, consider the person’s perspective. For example, I once had a client, let’s call her Jenna, whose former boss, let’s call him James, constantly gave her unsolicited advice about her career. This would drive her crazy. While Jenna and James built a great working relationship, they couldn’t agree on her next move. When Jenna would discuss her aspirations, James would shut them down. Eventually, without James’ help, Jenna networked her way into the path that she really wanted.
How did Jenna prevent James’ unsolicited advice from influencing her next step? She considered James’ perspective over his feedback. James had started at the company a decade earlier and quickly climbed the ladder into a critical role. He wanted Jenna to eventually follow in his footsteps. Jena was one of the few employees that could do it.
While James’ path was successful, it was fixed; he had a good career and wanted the same for Jenna. This was his perspective. He couldn’t fathom anything else for himself and he couldn’t for Jenna either. Eventually, the two had a good talk and Jenna moved on. Through understanding his perspective, she was able to maintain focus and peacefully move on.
While your unsolicited feedback experience may not be exactly the same as Jenna’s, there are likely some commonalities. If you are an entrepreneur or business leader, people may constantly feel the need to offer unsolicited feedback about your business strategy. Or, if you are going through a life change, people may want to tell you what’s next. Or, someone may comment on how you should wear your hair. No matter what situation you are in, there are consistently a few things to consider when understanding a feedback giver’s perspective:
- The giver’s personal and professional background. Feedback is often more about the giver than the receiver. It reflects the giver’s path, pivotal life moments, successes and challenges. A giver’s feedback is also heavily influenced by the highs and lows of their career. The more you understand and acknowledge the giver’s journey, the more perspective you will gain about them.
- The giver’s motivation: What is the giver’s motive for providing the feedback? For example, your boss may want you to look good, your close friend may not want you to make the same mistakes they did or your colleague might want to feel respected. Most of the time, the intentions are good so try to understand, not react, to them.
- Organizational Culture: If you received unsolicited feedback at work, is it typical of the culture? I hate to say it but some cultures expect their employees to constantly evaluate each other. Teams eventually get in the habit of wanting to say something regardless of whether or not it’s valuable or not. How is your organizational culture influencing the unsolicited feedback?
3) Determine how you will move forward. After completing steps 1 and 2, determine how you will move forward. If the giver is in a position of power (boss, organizational leader, etc.) close the loop with them. Thank them for the feedback and explain why you either accepted their feedback or went in a different direction. If the feedback was coming from someone without power or your respect, you may not need to respond at all. It all depends on the situation.
We will all get unsolicited feedback, the key is to respond to it in a way that is healthy and productive. Keep in mind that feedback is biased and can be more about the giver than the receiver. Research confirms this phenomenon. If you do need to respond, collect your thoughts first. Over time, in many situations, you will realize that you don’t need to respond at all.
As a global culture leader, credentialed coach, facilitator and speaker, LaTonya helps people, organizations and entrepreneurs thrive. LaTonya has over 15 years of experience working with Fortune 100 companies, higher education, tech and consulting firms and executive leadership teams. LaTonya’s coaching clients include leaders from underrepresented groups, powerful executives, purpose-driven entrepreneurs, ambitious leaders and purpose-driven professionals.
For coaching or speaking requests, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.