Not Taking Feedback Personally

Do you ever make a suggestion or create a whole plan, thinking this is the best thing since sliced bread, only to find out no one else likes it or wants to do it? You get all excited, you have the idea all thought out and you essentially get a thanks but no thanks? This has happened to me countless times. So many times in fact that I coined a term for it; I say the person or group politely hated it. It is a joke around the office now that if one of my ideas didn’t go forward someone must have politely hated it. I have had everything from project suggestions, staffing models, to even little job aids and cheat sheets ‘politely hated’ in the office. Then at home, well sometimes it is less polite but, I’ve gotten similar feedback on dinner ideas, vacation plans, and home design. I will say though that I never take it personally (OK I’m human, almost never take it personally).

It takes time and practice to truly understand this, but I’m telling you right now 99 times out of 100, when someone hates something you worked hard on, it’s got nothing to do with you. Hard to actually keep in mind I know but it is truly not about you. I know it sounds kind of rude but a comment made from a past mentor really resonated with me, ‘It is really self-centered of you to think that way.’ Now in full disclosure we weren’t talking about this exact topic but it is the same concept. It is really a narrow focus on yourself to believe that any time someone doesn’t like something or doesn’t agree with something it is because of you.

Nonetheless it is a very easy thought pattern to get stuck in. I have made dinners that I chose specifically because I thought my kids would rave about it to be met with whines and the overly dramatic, I wish I was in a different family! I have spent weeks drafting and refining a well thought out proposal to improve processes only to be told it wasn’t needed or useful and overcomplicated what was already working well. I have grown so that in both of those situations I walked away with lessons and ways to improve for the next go round. So the next question is how. How do you not get drawn up in the ‘What was wrong with my idea? Why didn’t they like it? Would they have liked it from someone else? What did I do wrong? Should I just not even bother?’ type of spiraling thought pattern? The answer is by asking questions to get to the root of the real problem. This is part of developing curiosity and continuous improvement strategies. Sound a little woo woo? I suggest starting with three primary questions and a follow-up.

  1. Was it the wrong solution?
    Be really objective about what the problem was you were trying to solve and if your solution was truly the right one. Now, there are typically good, better, and best solutions and each stakeholder may have a different perspective but you need to evaluate if the solution you prosed was the right one.
    For example, my solution was a fast semi healthy early dinner after a long vacation. The problem, they (the stakeholders) were hungry and at about 4. My best solution, dinner at 4:30 after skipping lunch, didn’t match theirs, snack before dinner at the normal time.
  2. Was it the wrong timing?
    Understand the situation you came into. Was the timing right to implement any solution let alone the one that you’re suggesting?
    In this example the timing of ‘dinner’ was very off and confusing for the kids. It also implied that they would be going to bed within a couple hours which made them pretty angry.
  3. Was it the wrong delivery? part of this could be in the timing too.
    Explaining the why, how, and what is critical but did you also make sure that you articulated in a way that they could understand how it would benefit them? (the ever important WIIFM)
    My delivery was way off for this one. I started by calling them in the house, saying no to a snack, and ignoring the reasons they might be upset and demanding they sit down and eat.

Once you understand where you stood on all of these for your situation follow each up with one question. How can I improve on that? How can I improve on the solution, timing, and delivery. For this example, the bulk of the opportunity was in the delivery. The solution was right, even if they didn’t care for it. Timing could have been a bit better but there was a reason. The delivery though was rough and didn’t explain a thing to them.

Now, none of you will be frustrated the next time your kid cries over grilled chicken breast (right?) but how else does this apply? I will tell you these are the same questions I asked myself when it came to my proposal too. The solution was good but perhaps solved a more specific problem with a couple groups rather than the broad brush of the solution for the entire organization, which is what I offered. The timing was OK (there were some really clear examples of where the solution would have been a benefit if it was already in place) but could have been improved. It was a busy time and my solution would have required resources that weren’t available. The delivery though was spot on. I knew my audience, articulated the why, how, and what and had a clear benefit to not only the audience I was pitching too but the customers of the solution as well. So, how do I improve? I will refine my solution to impact the areas that would see the most benefit and share the information again during a time that isn’t as full of competing priorities.

This framework of questions has helped me over time to get better at my personal and professional growth and development by focusing on what I can change and not on how I feel. Being objective, reflective, and taking action to make a difference will always serve me more in the long run.

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