How To Work With Feedback

Written by Brian Calvary on November 14, 2017

Picture the scene: after facing up to a problem at work, you have a brainwave of a solution to end all solutions. After a couple of days of hashing out plans in your head and talking to a couple of close co-workers about it, you take the idea to your boss. They listen. Then they hit you with a hard “no” and an excuse. You’re left feeling disappointed and inadequate. What do you do?

Complain about your manager to your co-worker, then feel too discouraged to push the idea any further? Hold a personal grudge against the manager for longer than necessary? Or brush off your ego and get back to work?

When you try to implement change in an association that is set in its ways, a “no” often means “not right now.” The best results come from being open to criticism of your ideas. We must all accept our own fallibility. Nobody is right 100% per cent of the time, and that’s okay! My advice is to take your idea, sharpen it, and bring it back to the table with more information.

Back when I was young and full of energy, I had a supervisor who would often reject my ideas. But she was never dismissive. She would walk me through her side of the story and explain why it wasn’t the right time. This wasn’t lip service, in fact it gave me a better look at the organization and the overall economic environment. It all came down to timing and what I could do to change tack. Her feedback helped to develop my ideas into more fully-formed and relevant plans. Not all management can afford to be so generous with their time, but those who are can be a valuable resource.

Even if no one offers feedback to you on a plate, use your initiative to weed it out of them. My favourite question is “why?”. Asking it makes me feel like a four-year-old, but it reaps results.

“That’s not how we do things here.”

“Why?”

“Because we do it this way.”

“Why?”

And so on until you get results, or they walk away. Exhaust people with the question to get to the root of an issue.

Everything could use tweaking and change. Sometimes it’s about working with what’s already there and sometimes it’s about knocking it down and starting over. No matter what, get people excited so they have their own stake in it. Forming alliances is also a great way of getting constructive criticism from peers. Figure out who wants to change the thing you want to change. What are their ideas? And who would be in opposition to your plans? Those who disagree with your approach may be more helpful if they have alternative, fresh perspectives to act as counter-arguments to your own ideas.

If you’ve worked with feedback, brought multiple ideas to the table, and the organization is still not open to any kind of change, my advice is to find one that is. This may sound cynical, but there’s no point waiting around in a stagnant environment. Know what is going to make you happy at an association and recognize when it might be time to move on.