Accepting Feedback: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (Part 3)

We’ve talked about “good” and “bad” feedback as being things we did well and things we can work on, but what about when you get “ugly” feedback? The kind when someone says something that is confusing, difficult to conceptualize, or just plain wrong. What do you do with feedback like that? It’s hard to know how to address it or how to utilize it when the feedback itself is unclear.

Ask for clarification.

Feedback isn’t set in stone – it’s an ongoing process. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information about the feedback you receive. Questions like, “Why do you say that?” or “What did I do that makes you think that?” can prompt the person delivering the feedback to give you more detail. You can also ask for them to give you a specific example of what they observed. These details can help you reframe the initial feedback and will often sharpen an unclear observation into an actionable item.

For example, a judge on my team once told me that I needed to communicate better. The comment initially baffled me because I believed that I had explained his task clearly, he had not asked any questions about it, and he seemed to be executing it successfully. I asked him for more detail and he added, “When you tell me to hurry, it causes me anxiety and makes it harder for me to be successful. While I’m learning this task, please let me slow down and take my time.” That more specific feedback allowed me to understand what aspect of my communication needed improvement – not the explanation of the work itself, but my supervision of him while he did it. The conversation allowed me to adjust my expectations and set the tone for a better working relationship for the remainder of the day.

Check yourself.

Carter once told me, “The first thing you should do when someone says you’re being an asshole is ask yourself, Am I being an asshole?” While we don’t always like the answer, taking an honest look at ourselves often unlocks opportunities to grow and improve. Especially if you receive similar feedback from multiple sources, sometimes shifting our perspective can show us things we didn’t see before. Maybe we thought a certain method was best, but we haven’t tried a new way. Maybe that other person’s interpretation of policy could be correct. Maybe we thought our advice was helpful when it actually frustrates others.

For example, a member of a team I lead told me that she felt like I didn’t trust her. It surprised me because I view her as an extremely capable judge and I trust her to handle things completely. As a team lead I often take on the more difficult and complicated tasks assigned to our team intending to lighten the load for other folks. I had no idea that this practice could send the opposite of my intended message. In the future I will consider how I delegate tasks to ensure that I take into account both the workload and what message those assignments send.

Watch for it later.

Sometimes when initially receiving feedback, it may seem untrue or irrelevant. In that case, it may be best to file that information away for later, but make a mental note of it. Being aware of a potential issue can allow you to identify it if and when it recurs. Then, when it does happen, your mental light will go on and you’ll say, “Ohhhhh . . . that’s what that feedback meant.” Connecting the feedback and the behavior may not be instantaneous, especially if the feedback was not very specific, but if you’re looking for it, you’ll likely find it.

For example, if someone mentions that you flip rounds too slowly at your FNMs, you may think, “I always make good time. Why would they say that?” But a few weeks later at FNM you are talking to a player and look up to realize that the last slip has come in and you weren’t looking. As you quickly end your conversation and grab for the slip, you realize that this is what that person was talking about.

Often feedback that may seem unclear can actually be very beneficial; you just have to invest the effort to decipher it. Give yourself time to think about and mentally process each bit of feedback you receive. It may start out as convoluted, confusing, or condescending, but when you set aside your initial emotional reaction and look a little deeper you will often find that it’s also on point. Even if it’s not, you can find useful things within int to take away from it.

We’ve now considered feedback that is good, bad, and ugly. While feedback comes in all shapes and sizes, and sorting it into categories can help process it into bite-sized chunks that you can turn into real change on the floor of your next event. Positive feedback tells you where you are strong and which practices to continue. Areas for improvement help you focus your efforts on places that you can do better. Ambiguous or incorrect feedback poses the greatest challenge to finding ways to apply it, but it also offers the greatest reward when you discover its hidden meanings.

Whether the feedback you receive is good, bad, or ugly, the most important part is what you do with it!

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