Feedback has a way of finding us. Even when we don’t want it.
People tell us some pretty awful stuff, both at work and in our personal lives.
It’s one thing when we’ve asked for feedback and something else when it’s uninvited.
Here’s how I define unsolicited feedback:
Unsolicited feedback is any information we get from others—about ourselves—without asking for it.
It can feel like a punch to the stomach (or even a lift to our spirit, when it’s positive.)
Here are some examples:
Comments like these (and their possible hidden meanings):
- Oh, you got a haircut. (with a flat expression, leaving out whether or not they like it)
- I never would have guessed you were on Medicare. (hinting that it’s not ok to look like we’re of Medicare-age)
- Just cut off that relationship. (telling us how to handle conflict in our lives)
- You look tired. (letting you know you’re not so looking great)
Sometimes unsolicited feedback doesn’t use words at all and shows up in the form of eye rolls, deep sighs or crossed arms.
This kind of feedback can be tough because we have a hunch what the giver intends to communicate but we’re not quite sure.
And often the message seeps into our brain anyway. If it’s hard to hear it throws us off balance. We might lose our confidence or our respect for the feedback giver.
We haven’t asked for this feedback. We may not want to hear it. But, there it is.
So, what can we do?
Unsolicited Feedback offers us two main choices.
- We can dismiss this feedback and move on with our lives.
- We can let feedback in and learn from it.
Here are some tips for dismissing unsolicited feedback?
It can feel nearly impossible to let a thoughtless remark or piece of feedback go.
If you’re like me, you can go back decades and still recall what someone said to you. (It was the elderly woman at a professional dinner who asked, “So, when is the baby due?” Yep. I was not pregnant!)
Figuring out what to do with unsolicited feedback isn’t easy. Here are some strategies that might help.
- Tell me more. This might sound counter-intuitive but sometimes we don’t have enough to go on. When we ask, with a tone of curiosity (not snark), it might help to dismiss the feedback by seeing it as invalid, confusing, or just plain wrong.
- Is this true? Ask yourself if the feedback is true. And if the answer is “yes” then decide whether or not you want to take any action.
- Find a silver lining. I was in my 50’s when asked when the baby was due and replied with, “I love that you think I’m young enough to be pregnant.” The comment still stung (and it was awhile before I wore that outfit again) but finding a small silver lining helped.
Here’s a story of letting feedback in:
Unsolicited feedback, given at the right time, can shift our lives in dramatic ways, if we allow it.
And it doesn’t even have to come from an expert, friend or person we value. Though a poor relationship with the feedback giver can make it much harder to hear.
Many years ago, a colleague I didn’t like or respect, gave me powerful feedback. When I was complaining about the New Jersey Department of Education changing it’s requirements so that now I needed a second Masters Degree to earn my principal certificate he said,
Jamie, you’re awfulizing. Maybe going back to graduate school won’t be so bad. And, hey, you can always quit if you don’t like it.
That feedback stopped me in my whining tracks. Quitting had never occurred to me and it was just the option that enabled me to jump into my future. Within a month of that conversation I was enrolled in a graduate program and had my principal certificate two years later.
There were many days when I wanted to quit grad school. But, I didn’t. And that led me to a wonderful journey as a school principal.
So, I’d say we can either choose to dismiss unsolicited feedback or let it in. And when we get better at hearing feedback, that we haven’t requested, we learn about ourselves, feel more at peace, and embrace opportunities to grow. What would you say?
For more on feedback and other stress-reducing topics check out my award-winning book: Less Stress Business: A Guide for Hiring, Coaching and Leading Great Employees