I have a lot of energy for effective feedback. Unfortunately, I haven’t reached all the managers (and just plain folks) in the world yet, so there are still folks out there giving feedback that is veiled, garbled, unactionable, and downright hurtful.

Take for example, a project manager who was told, in her annual review, that she was “too nice.”

What the heck can you do with feedback like that?

First, it’s not really feedback. It’s a judgment masquerading as feedback. Feedback is information — it describes a behavior or result in specifics.

If someone hands you a judgment masquerading as feedback, try asking questions to extract some useful information.

Start with an opening that reassures the pseudo-feedback giver that you aren’t challenging him– that you are trying to understand his point of view. (Sounds easy, and our natural inclination to a label is to defend…so take a deep breath…) Something like: “I want to understand your concern so I know where to improve.”

Then try to get some actual information that will help you:

  • What have you seen and heard that will help me understand your assessment?
  • Can you give me some specific examples to help me understand the issues you see?
  • What have you seen about how ____________ is affecting my results?
  • What can you share your thoughts about how ___________ impacts my effectiveness?

    Remember to breathe, and keep your voice and demeanor as neutral as you can.

    You may actually unearth some useful information.

    Remember you always have a choice on how (if at all) you will act on feedback.

    When you are unable to get useful information, remember that feedback is about the giver’s perception of you– not the Truth about you. Fill in the blanks in the message to put it in that context:

    “You are too nice (compared to what I think you should be).”