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The value of feedback
Role ambiguity and feelings of incompetence, or uncertainty, are major factors in workplace stress. When we aren’t sure how well we are performing, or what we need to do differently, we are left uncertain as to whether we can carry out our role to the expected standard. This can result in feelings of chronic stress and insecurity. However, we don’t always receive as much feedback as we would like, or need. In this module, we will consider how to ask for feedback - and how to get the best from it. Make soliciting and acting upon feedback a regular habit - and your job performance will significantly increase.

How to encourage others to provide you with feedback
Most organisations now have review procedures in place, which allow line managers and team leaders the opportunity to provide employees with feedback, on a regular basis. However, this may result in only one or two formal reviews every year. Whilst these can be useful, many people would appreciate more information regarding their performance! Fortunately, it is possible to solicit informal feedback, alongside any formal review process.

The simplest method is to ask directly. Take your manager to one side and ask whether they have five minutes to talk. Tell them that, whilst you appreciate your formal reviews, you want to do the best job possible and so would like to hear any feedback they are able to offer. They may be surprised at first and be unable to think of key points to share with you in that moment, so make it clear that you are happy to talk to them at a more convenient time, or wait for them to email you. The more specific you can be, the better. For example, it is better to ask, “Could I get some feedback from you about the quality of my presentations?” than “Could you tell me how well I’ve been doing lately?”

Handling positive feedback
Receiving positive feedback is a great feeling. Make sure that you express gratitude and, if appropriate, acknowledge the role that the person giving you praise has played in helping you develop your skills. For example, if your manager tells you what a great presentation you gave, make sure to thank them for sending you on any relevant training courses.

Do not assume that because you have received positive feedback, there is no room for improvement. Stagnating in your work leads to boredom, which can eventually lead to stress. Enjoy praise and congratulate yourself, but never allow yourself to become complacent. Continue challenging yourself - and make it a priority to keep on learning new skills.

Handling negative feedback
Negative feedback can feel like a personal attack, even when you recognise its value to you as an employee. It is vital that you learn to separate feedback concerning your actions or performance, from feedback concerning you as a person. In the workplace, you should only be receiving the former. This means that, if you are told, for example, that your recent report lacked attention to detail, you need not (and should not) interpret this to mean “I am incapable of paying sufficient attention to detail”. Keep grounded in the present. A single piece of feedback relating to a single project is not a judgement on you, as a person. Push your ego to one side and re-cast negative feedback as an opportunity to learn.

Make sure that you truly comprehend what the person delivering the feedback is actually saying. When we are stressed and feeling vulnerable, we can over-exaggerate negative feedback - and even overlook the positives. Always repeat back what has been said to the individual who said it. For instance, if your conduct in group situations has been criticised, saying “So if I understand you correctly, you are saying that I need to allow other people more time to speak?” is a productive and positive response to negative feedback. It shows that you have engaged with what you have been told.

The next step in responding to negative feedback is to be proactive in learning how you can improve. If you have not already been told how to do so, ask exactly how you ought to behave in future. Phrases such as “Please could you tell me how to make progress with this issue?” and “How should I approach such situations differently?” can provide whoever is giving the feedback with an opportunity to clarify how - and why - they want you to improve.

In most cases, negative feedback is delivered alongside positive feedback. Unfortunately, because the human brain has evolved to scan and detect threats, it is too easy for many of us to focus on the negative, at the expense of the positive. If you struggle to retain a sense of perspective, write down all the feedback you receive – positive and negative – on a piece of paper. You will see that, whilst you need to improve in some areas, you are skilled in others. This is true for everyone, however senior, or well respected they appear to be. Do not be too harsh on yourself. Everyone has to learn and no-one can succeed at everything, the first time they try. Promise yourself that you will continue to try and improve, then put the necessary work in, to deliver on that promise.

Dealing with unfair, or inaccurate feedback
Occasionally, you may be given negative feedback that seems so unfair, unjustified, or even fabricated, that it surprises or angers you. Should this happen to you, try not to assume the worst. It is possible that the person providing the feedback may have confused you with someone else, or that they have made mistakes in their record-keeping. Remain calm. Becoming angry, or overly upset, will not help to resolve the situation. State that you do not understand the basis on which this feedback is being given. Stick to the facts. Make notes, if necessary, so that you can look up relevant information later. For instance, if you have been told your presentation skills are poor, but you sincerely feel that the last two presentations you gave were well received and even received a compliment from a senior member of staff, then say so.

If whoever you are speaking to persists in telling you that their negative feedback is accurate, thank them for their time, part on positive terms – and then seek appropriate advice from HR, or another senior member of staff. Do not be tempted to engage in petty gossip, whether from frustration, or as an act of revenge, as this will only damage your reputation.

Activity
Think about the last time someone offered you a piece of negative feedback. How did you handle the situation? If you were in the same situation again tomorrow, would you act differently? How?
14. Dealing Constructively with Negative or Unresponsive Individuals

Minimising conflict related stress
A great deal of stress could be avoided if everyone agreed to remain as positive and constructive as possible, at all times. However, we live in an imperfect world in which people can - and do - behave in negative and even unresponsive, ways. If you do not accept this, you are setting yourself up to experience stress and frustration, on a regular basis. The best approach is to accept that, whilst you may encounter people who insist on behaving in an obstructive and difficult fashion, you are in full control of your own reactions. This is an empowering approach - you can’t change them, but you can certainly change how you behave!

What does negative or unresponsive behaviour look like?
The following list contains the most common examples of unhelpful behaviours that you can expect to come across in the workplace:

Negative feedback or criticism that appears illogical.
Passive aggression, perhaps taking the form of a refusal to contribute in meetings.
Intentionally ignoring emails, or instructions.
Failing to work with others, in team situations.
Persistent bad attitude in general, including a determination to find fault with every idea proposed by others.
Lack of punctuality and reliability, or a tendency to let other people down.
Agreeing to change, but failing to alter their behaviour.

Understanding the other person’s position
The first step in lessening the power of negative behaviour to affect your stress levels, is to try and understand the other person. This does not mean that you have to spend hours trying to uncover all of their motives - and neither does it mean that you forgive their actions. However, understanding the likely reasons behind their negative conduct, can help you feel more patient and detached from the situation and, in turn, less stressed.

If you can, talk to the person concerned, when the two of you are alone. Adopt a non-confrontational approach and focus on their actions, rather than their personality. For instance, it is much more constructive to ask, “I notice that you have ignored the last three emails I have sent you – why is that?”, than to launch into the conversation with a general statement like “You haven’t been listening to instructions recently - and I demand to know why!”

This may be enough to encourage the individual to disclose their motives. If they do, you can work together to address any underlying problems. However, they may play down, or dismiss, your concerns in such a way, that leaves you feeling frustrated. At this point, you have a choice – you can either continue to push them (which is unlikely to work - and may result in further hostility), or you can accept that, for the time being, they have chosen not to tell you the truth. Sometimes we must accept that other people’s motives are not for us to know – indeed, people often lack even basic insight into their own behaviour! Your job is to control your own response to their actions - and act in the best interests of both the individual and the company. Unfortunately, it may be necessary to implement disciplinary action, for example, if an employee is failing to comply with basic instructions.


Creating positive outcomes
As a rule, emphasising potential positive outcomes will elicit a more productive response than dwelling on the negative. This doesn’t mean that you cannot, or should not, face the reality of someone’s actions or discipline them as required, but that you should always turn the focus to the possibility of a brighter outcome, as soon as possible in the conversation.

Do not lose sight of the desired result. Ask yourself what you really need and want from this person – do you need them to attend work on time? Do you need them to be more diligent in meeting deadlines? Do you need them to voice their opinions in meetings, rather than acting in a passive-aggressive manner when someone disagrees with them? Phrase what you need, using positive language. For instance, “I need you to put forward your ideas with greater clarity, in our weekly team meetings” is more likely to provoke positive change than “I need you to stop being rude and difficult, during team talks”.

Negotiating the first steps of your success
When dealing with a negative, or unresponsive, person, always end the conversation by spelling out exactly what needs to happen next. This means that they have no excuse for not taking constructive action.

Even if you feel intensely irritated or stressed in the presence of someone, force yourself to keep calm. Whether or not they appreciate your efforts to act in a professional manner, your own self-image will suffer if you let yourself lose your temper, or say something you will regret. If the situation becomes very tense, excuse yourself for a few minutes. Take a brief walk and drink a glass of water.

Continual reinforcement of the message
Once you have negotiated change, ensure that you follow it up. It is important to do this via:

Confirmation via correspondence: Always follow up an important meeting with an email, in which you set out what was discussed - and how all parties will proceed. Don’t rely on the other person to respond. State plainly within the email that if you do not hear to the contrary, you will assume that they agree that the contents of your message represents an accurate account of the situation.

Review meetings: At the end of a discussion, schedule your next meeting. The time between meetings will depend on your schedules and the nature of the problem to be solved – “sooner” is usually better than “later”.

Modelling the desired outcomes: If you have requested that someone make changes to their style of working or attitude, you need to make sure that you are modelling the behaviours you expect. Few people respond well to hypocrisy. If you have asked someone you supervise to take more of an active role in meetings or keeping to deadlines, you need to ensure that you are speaking up and getting your work done on time.

Agreeing on consequences for continued lack of engagement or negative behaviour - and then enforcing them: If you behave in an inconsistent manner, don’t be surprised if others fail to take you seriously. Ensure that you set out, both verbally and in writing, the consequences of the other person’s behaviour. Be clear and specific. Emphasise that you are adhering to established protocols - and that your treatment of them is not personal.

Activity
You and a partner will enact the following scenario. Imagine that an employee has agreed to meet a deadline – but it passed three days ago. This is the second time this month that this individual has missed an important deadline - and now they have been called in for a private meeting with their team leader. One of you must play the leader and the other, the employee. How should the team leader try and generate the desired result? Imagine that the employee is reluctant to discuss the issues. How should the team leader react?