Your Perspective is Screwing Up Feedback

Perspective, perspective, perspective. I was having a chat with one of my friends the other day online, about her kid’s upcoming birthday party. And there was a moment after I responded to something, that I knew that she completely misunderstood what I said.

The words themselves were innocent enough when I looked at them, but I just knew that from her perspective, they were judgmental and perhaps, insulting. She is one of my closest friends, so the flash of annoyance she had for me, didn’t last long luckily, but it made me reflect on how many times this happens to us, particularly when we are given feedback at WORK.

We all bring our “unique peopleness” to work every day. Usually that results in great accomplishments, but every once in a while, the way that we see the world, our own perspective, greatly colors others words. And we know that tone and meaning is difficult to determine through email, chat or social media. That annoying email from the boss you hate, was most likely not meant to be so annoying. Instead, your own dislike for him has provided you with a tilted view of his intent.

How Feedback is Tainted

I can easily find ten or more examples of how this blind-spot of ours, has impacted people’s careers. Looking at my own, I remember one horrific performance review that haunts me to this day. I remember sitting on the phone (don’t even get me started about that) and listening to this boss who I had only met in person once, tell me how horrible of an employee I was. And then I read the document she sent me, and it was completely different. On paper, the feedback did not seem so hurtful or personal. So which version was right? I was so new at the company and insecure about my performance, that to me, her constructive feedback turned into “awfulness.” I missed the accolades in the conversation.

And the converse is often true as well. When employees are shocked by how negative a review is, the manager swears that they have delivered the feedback time and time again. The disconnect: the employee is so disillusioned that they are a fantastic employee, that the feedback is completely ignored.

So how can we fix this? The fact that we are people with perspectives is not going to change (thankfully!). But at work, it’s critical that you are cognizant that this occurs. Here are a few things that helped me along the way, even if it is still constant work.

  • Stop reading emails from people you aren’t fond of, on your blackberry/phone. Just stop. For some reason, their attacking words are so much worse on the little screen. I wish I could explain this phenomenon, but I can’t other than things vastly improved when I left those emails to be tackled on a big screen. (The emails were never really that bad through that lens).
  • Become very good at receiving feedback. Here’s a shocker for you – all of my bosses, the ones I loved and hated, would all say that I surprised them by taking formal feedback very well. (My family, if they are reading this, just started laughing). Here’s how I do it: I literally remain silent and LISTEN during feedback time. I take notes, I write down full quotes of what my boss tells me, and I say nothing. I keep my face blank and pretend I’m a sponge there to soak it all in. My own biases will always color those conversations, so I do not engage in them. Instead, I take my notes, listen closely, and then walk away to digest the information in a safe environment where I can objectively strip away the feedback.
  • See your boss (or other annoying person) as a person. He/she is someone’s son or daughter, father/mother, brother/sister, and so on. They are also skewed in their own perspective, and they may not be right. But being right is not nearly as important as understanding the intent in the message. So buck on up and try and be the understanding or level-headed person in the room.
  • And when all else fails – step away from technology and take a quick break. Nothing will derail your career or reputation faster than blowing up at work. So walk away, try and find some perspective, and stay away until your objectivity is found again.