A reader writes:
I’m catastrophically bad at taking feedback. I had a near-miss the other day and I’m reaching out for advice for the next time.
I’m at a new job on a short-term contract. It’s a small office, a relaxed atmosphere, and it’s pretty common to work from home the odd day. On my first week, I asked my boss by email if I could leave a little early the following Monday and he said, “Sure — work from home if you want to.” (I didn’t.)
Next week I emailed a request to work from home a day. Response was, “We can discuss that when we next catch up.”
I freaked out inside. Why wasn’t he saying yes? What had I done wrong? Why couldn’t he just say “no” straight out? I had to control an urge to rush right into his office and ask. I worked steadily all morning to make sure I had done enough of the current project to warrant a catch-up meeting and then suggested a catch-up. He said to grab some lunch first and I wanted to scream at the delay. I was too upset to eat. So much of my morning, my mind had been going to “Is it because I’m working too slowly? He hasn’t been giving me deadlines even though I asked for them, but I think I’m going quickly enough! Is it because he saw me on the Internet that one time and doesn’t think I can be trusted? Everyone does it and it was a news site, not Facebook!” I pictured myself having to explain to my husband that my at-will contract had been terminated…
Eventually the catch-up happened. He said it was fine to work from home that day and he simply wanted to make sure I knew that his preference was for people to be in the office most of the time. He actually praised my work.
I know this sounds frankly mad. Part of it’s my personality and part of it’s linked to my last job, which I wasn’t suited for and where I really DID mess up a lot. But I need to control my emotional reactions and I’m not really sure how.
I bet more of this than you realize is linked to your last job, or to other experiences where you learned to expect criticism or to hear you were doing something wrong. Somewhere along the line, your brain learned to expect the worst from these situations.
But as for how to control it now, there are a few different things that might help:
1. Ask for feedback. Rather than sitting around waiting to hear terrible feedback and thus keeping yourself in a constant state of dread, ask for feedback proactively. Ask, “How am I doing overall?” and “What would you like to see me doing differently?” This does a couple of things: It puts you in control of the situation — you’re getting feedback at the time that you ask for it, rather than worrying that it strike you when you least expect it. It also means that you’ll have a general baseline understanding of what your boss thinks of your work, so the next time you’re worrying that you’re about to be fired, you can remind yourself that two weeks ago, your manager said he was happy with your work. (It also makes you look great. Bosses love people who solicit feedback.)
2. Look to what you know about your boss. What signals has he given you about how he handles feedback or what he does when he’s unhappy with something? Does he let it fester and then spring it on you unexpectedly? Is he straightforward? Does he save it all up for formal meetings or talk to on an ad hoc basis throughout the week?
3. De-personalize the situation. If your friend were in this situation rather than you, what would you tell her? I’d bet you’d see it a lot more objectively and wouldn’t think she was about to hear ego-destroying criticism or get fired. But when you’re anxious about feedback at work, it can be really hard to see it objectively … so take yourself out of it and see if your perspective changes.
What other advice do people have?