Posted on by & filed under being awesome, career advice.

I get the opportunity to talk to our clients about the best and the worst feedback they’ve received anonymously from their coworkers and help them turn it into action. And the question that everyone eventually gets around to asking me during their review is: based on what you’ve seen, what do you think of me?

Needless to say, this is a delicate question to answer.

When you conduct a 360 review, it’s a really unique position to be in if you think about it — I don’t know this person at all, yet I’ve had the chance to read completely candid feedback about their performance from their peers, managers, and employees, and so I have this deep insight into how they are perceived on their team.

So it is a question I always answer carefully. But although the clients are always different, my answer is nearly always the same: you have an incredible opportunity to do even better than you’ve done before.

It’s not about who you are; it’s about what you do.

This is your opportunity to turn criticism and feedback into the kind of action that speaks volumes. You cannot change who you are, but you can change what you do. Will you take the opportunity to turn negative feedback into positive growth?


Why feedback is about action, not people

There is only so much you can do to change the person that you are deep inside. It is much more effective and productive to work on tweaking your actions to produce more positive outcomes than to try to completely change who you are — even though, when we receive critical feedback from our peers, our first instinct can be to wish we could just be someone else.

Trying to change who you are isn’t sustainable. It’s like going on a crash diet — you can only starve yourself for so long before you binge, possibly causing even more harm than if you’d just continued on the path you were on before.

Instead, look at small steps. Look at what you can do and how you can do it more effectively. Who you are will never change, but your actions are always within your control.

Today I want to share just a couple of my top strategies for using negative feedback to inform better changes and how to rally support and success from your changes.


Look for themes

If you find a common thread in your negative feedback, this is usually the best place to start taking action. This is all about making an impact; if there is one thing people constantly notice and criticize in your performance, changing that first will have the most immediate impact on how you are perceived.

For example, if you always hear that you are too quiet and never speak up in meetings, you can make an instant change by setting a goal to speak at least once in every meeting. This may mean doing extra preparation before every meeting so you know you have something valuable to add, or it may mean psyching yourself up in the bathroom if you’re nervous about speaking in front of a group.

Whatever it takes, though, you should work on making changes that will be obvious to your peers so they can see you making the effort. After all, if you are perceived in a certain way, the only way to change that perception is to change the version of you that people see.

You can tackle smaller, behind-the-scenes feedback later on; it is important to be seen tackling the feedback seriously first, so choose opportunities that are visible either to your manager or your team, which will mean the most to them.


Make a plan

How often do we tell ourselves we’ll go to the gym in the morning, only to oversleep and get swept up in a million other things that keep us from getting to the gym all day?

Without a plan, most feedback is completely wasted. Sure, we hear the feedback and think about how great it would be to fix those things and be this incredible new version of ourselves. But the fact is — change is hard and uncomfortable, and without creating some kind of system of accountability, it’s too easy to think that “thinking about changing” is the same thing as “changing”.

Instead of spending time imagining how great it will be when you are a fantastic listener or a better coder, write out a concrete action plan that will get you to those goals.

Try breaking it down into ridiculously small steps. KateM always suggests starting with, “If I want to do _____, what would I google first to get started?”. This is a great way to practice breaking down big ideas into small steps.

So if you hear that you have bad email communication, start out by thinking about what makes a great email. Things like: replying promptly, writing clear easy-to-read messages, and getting all the right people attached on an email. You can start by simply deciding to reply to every email you receive within 2 hours. Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to do everything at once; tackle visible, small changes first.

Create this action plan, write it down, and post it somewhere you can’t ignore it. Try to cross at least one item off every week, no matter how small.

Progress only works when you can hold yourself accountable and make sure you are really doing the things you know you should.


Tell people you intend to change

In addition to making visible changes, you should also make an effort to connect with your peers about the feedback they’ve given you. Simply acknowledging that you heard them is a great place to show people that you are someone who is listening and taking your personal growth seriously.

It’s also smart to share your improvement plan with them. People like to hear that you’ve listened; they *love* to see that you know exactly how you’ll take what you’ve learned and use it to be better.

This is also a great way to create accountability for your plan. Now other people know what you intend to do, and so you have an audience that will know if you don’t stick to your goals — which can help to keep you on track even when it feels difficult.


Stick it out — even when it sucks (because that’s when it’s working!)

I was always shy growing up. I mumbled, avoided eye contact, and squirmed if I ever had to make conversation with someone I didn’t know.

Then I realized: I was constantly getting feedback that I was too quiet. I made people uncomfortable, and not sharing my ideas was holding me back.

So I decided to change it. I started going to networking events, and I would practice body language and hand gestures and phrases that I had noticed socially graceful people using.

And the thing is — at first, it felt terrible. I hated it! Making extended eye contact with people and approaching groups of strangers to make conversation at an event often felt like torture, but even as I forced myself to practice my new skills, I could also see through the discomfort that they were working.

Change is uncomfortable, but it is when it is hardest that we are really learning and growing.

By forcing myself to keep getting out there, speaking up, meeting people, and I started to get these huge benefits. People liked me, people offered me opportunities, and people were just generally a lot nicer to me. It made my world a better place to be.

Now those those things come a lot more naturally to me (even though I am still a quiet person who would rather be at home than at a busy event) and it’s not so hard. But it is still *somewhat* hard. Change is hard.

If change were easy, we would all already be amazing people.

You can’t give up on change when it makes you uncomfortable, because otherwise you’ll be bailing out before you’ve even really started. Change takes commitment of months and years, many times.

Stick it out.


How have you dealt with negative feedback?

We love a good growth story. Share your thoughts on processing negative feedback and turning it into action in the comments!

Tags: 360 review, better leader, feedbackg, growth, opportunity, performance review,

2 Responses to “Reinventing yourself: how to bounce back and take action from negative feedback”

  1. Nik Sumeiko

    Kate, I think the approach with the plan is universal and could be successfully applied to different feedback targets.
    We’re using absolutely the same path when getting feedback about our software – kind of system of accountability. I actually call it “feedback lifecycle”. After collecting the feedback, we plan, fix, learn and apply most of the points extracted from it. At the end we contact people back to discuss how we applied what they told us in an exact, or slightly different way. 90% of the people we get back to become more interested about what we build, appreciate we have listened to them, and, you know, feel somehow special, feel that they are important for us.

    In our case it’s a software we’re running through this feedback lifecycle, but also could be you as a person. Truly universal approach you have described in the post that just works. Gorgeous.

    • Kate Stull

      Hi Nik,

      Thanks so much for your comment! I love your approach to applying feedback to software. I think that final “followup” step is so so important; so few people do it, but closing the loop with people who have taken the time to give you their opinion to help you be better is really key for cementing that relationship and building trust. It shows you are willing to learn, and makes people so much more invested in helping you in the future.

      Thanks for sharing your story!