The HR Juggler

Lessons Learnt: 5 Pieces of Feedback That Have Really Influenced Me

Posted on: February 7, 2011

I like feedback and if it is well delivered, it can be a very effective tool for making us more aware of our own behaviour and the impact we have on others.  Usually in my role, I coach others about the best way to approach delivering feedback; however, recently I have been reflecting on some of the most useful pieces of feedback that I have received in my career to date.  The commonality with all of these is the impact that they have had on how I act or the way I perceive things…more often than not on how I perceive my professional self.

Coincidentally these are also in chronological order – some of the early ones may seem blindingly obvious, but had to be learned, nonetheless 😉

1 – Just because you don’t articulate how you feel, does not mean that other people don’t know about it!

I learnt this lesson early on from one of my first bosses who gave me some good feedback on the fact that, like an open book, I am eminently ‘read-able’ in my body language and reaction to events. Sometimes this can be positive, but more often than not it is valuable to adopt a level of circumspection and I have (mostly!) learned to be more careful and considered.  The accompanying lesson to that one, is that just because colleagues don’t always choose react to non-verbal signals, it doesn’t mean that they have gone unnoticed.

2 – The areas that you think you need to develop, are not always the ones your boss would choose

Same boss, a couple of years later was talking to me about development and what I felt I needed to gain in order to progress. I opted for developing more ‘gravitas’ – partly because I thought it sounded sensible and suitable for a more senior role, but also because I believed it to be somehing I could do with developing more of. She gently pointed out that, in her opinion, I already had that in spades and had I thought about something totally different. She was right about it too – sometimes you’re not always the person who can see what you most need to improve, so asking and listening is vital.

3 – The colleague that you find difficult to work with, probably has some issues with you too

Peer-to-peer feedback is often tricky and my first real experience of it was when I worked with a business partner, who I felt always expected me to drop everything for him straight away and would hover over my desk expectantly when he wanted something from me, which made me feel like my personal space was being invaded. I found him to be a most unpleasant colleague and I took the time (when I wasn’t feeling too irritated!) to sit down with him and offer him some feedback along the lines of “I know you’re probably not aware of this, but when you do abc, it makes me feel xyz.” I had planned what I wanted to say very carefully and made sure I was neutral, clear and professional. The big learning for me in here though, was that when I had finished talking, he offered me some feedback in return and explained that he perceived me as being far too quick to dismiss an idea and say ‘no’ to it, without really exploring it or listening to his point of view. And actually, in fairness, he was probably right! At times, our conversation felt like a nightmare of diplomatic marriage guidance, as we tried to understand the other’s viewpoint, but the experience of giving feedback to eachother was highly valuable in improving our working relationship.

4 – HR people often neglect to practise what we preach

OK, so this may just be me ;). During a recent appraisal, my (non-HR) boss challenged me as to why all of my stated development goals were essentially ‘on-the-job’ training and learning by doing, rather than proper planned training courses or development. I recognised that since I have worked part-time I have often skimped on formal training, because I felt that I just didn’t have the time for it. He also challenged me about my external HR network (which was pretty sparse at the time)..and this prompted me to be a bit more proactive about it and led me to Twitter, ConnectingHR and the Unconference. And, believe me, that has represented a transformation of my HR network! Sometimes we can be so busy coaching managers about their development and that of their team, that we can end up losing sight of the need to challenge our boundaries and further our own development.

5 –  Perceptive comments from people who barely know you

Occasionally, someone can hit the nail on the head without realising it and say something that really resonates with you. For me, this happened at the Unconference in one of the breakout sessions, ‘The Politics of HR’, when the discussion moved onto blogging. I made the comment that I would have no idea as to how to go about starting a blog, and  the leader of the discussion laughed (kindly!) and said “that’s just really feeble – you work in a publishing company for goodness sake!” For me, that was a real light-bulb moment of taking ownership of my own development and capabilities and just giving things a go. I started my blog the very next day and haven’t looked back. I often think of that comment when I am facing challenges and it never fails to make me smile and toughen my resolve :).

And of course the feedback goes on, less often in a formal context now that I am more senior, but to be found nonetheless, if you are on the look-out for it.  Occasionally (as happened very recently) I am mortified by the realisation that I still fall into some of the same traps I thought I had conquered years ago, but the lovely thing about feedback is that it always an opportunity to learn and to put things right again. And of course, we are all human – thank goodness :)!

I’d love to know what feedback you have received over the years that has really resonated with you and influenced how you operate at work and home.

7 Responses to "Lessons Learnt: 5 Pieces of Feedback That Have Really Influenced Me"

Another great post Alison. This is something I’ve been meaning to write about and there’s a post brewing 🙂 specially following an interaction with a fellow L&D professional last week.

You raised some important points in your post – getting feedback from different people around you, HR practicing what we preach and in my opinion, the most important and valuable: peer feedback.

Two years ago the London OD Team got together for our annual team offsite – the one time a year we were all in the same place at the same time. One of my colleagues suggested we had a peer feedback session and everyone went very quiet… Well, we might just as well practice what we preach, she said. There’s no point in doing it to others if we can’t do it to and amongst ourselves.

We set the ground rules and off we went, remembering we have 2 ears and one mouth – use it in proportion. It was probably the most nerve-wracking, even scary, but by far the best learning experience I’ve been part of.

Everyone was honest, objective, challenged and got challenged, and above all, very receptive of feedback and professional. I often reflect on the feedback I received that day. It has helped me look at my ways and behaviours, the impact I can have on others, how I can adapt as well as use it to my advantage if necessary.

I have since taken it upon myself to seek, ask and provide feedback. It’s not an easy task but practice makes perfect – at giving and receiving! One of these days I’ll share my tips for providing feedback. As I said, there’s a post “brewing” 🙂


Great post Alison!

I recognise much of the feedback you’ve listed from my past. The best feedback I’ve ever received is “be yourself”. Marching to the (regular) beat of others’ drums doesn’t get the best from me or the team/orgn I’m part of!

Realising I don’t need to restrict myself to the same rules by which others “play the game” but be aware and respectful of the rules is feeling more and more comfortable. As the quality of my work improves the more I let go, so the more I let myself go further. It’s proving to be very empowering!

Had I been better placed to properly understand the feedback when I first received it 6 years ago (!), my career would undoubtedly be further forward. I don’t regret this though as I simply wasn’t ready to make full use of it.

Great feedback only becomes great when the receiver is in a position to “get” it and therefore make great strides with it!

Wow. What a brilliant post. I almost feel envious. For me, running a niche PR consultancy for some years, feedback comes from clients in general, positive terms, but never in constructive ways such as you’ve listed. If I had it, it would help me understand myself better, perform to my strengths and work to improve my weaknesses. As much as the business has been successful – so I take that as a sign of I’m doing ok – it does make me think I need to ask more searching questions particularly of people who work with me.

Good things I’ve learned? Today, it is to ask for feedback.

Thanks, Alison.

Cracking post Alison. Feedback is so important, as is the ability to act on it. I know so many people that ask for feedback over and over again but never act on it. My last boss was very much like that – even making a joke of it. But it was no joke!

A had a chuckle about your point 3 – we so often see life though our own distorted lens and thinking how others see you is something we rarely do. Someone told me once that there were studies done that showed that people who imagined themselves as others see them, rather than from the first person perspective were more successful!

Two other great pieces of advice i have taken on personally in life are that good people can do anything and one man’s passion is another man’s poison. Not everyone likes marmite so sometimes it pays to temper the enthusiasm in order to win your case. Social media being a case in point.

I love your post Alison.

There is one piece of feedback that I received in my previous role that will stay with me forever.

I was observing a manager’s interviewing skills and hadn’t given much thought to how that impacted on the candidates. I obviously explained the reason for my presence but that was as far as it went. A year or two later te successful candidate mentioned in her leaving speech how intimidating she had found me. I was really shocked and upset about how I had come across. I’d never wanted to appear that way.

I have been acutely aware of this ever since.

Not a nice message to receive but she did me a massive turn!

Thanks so much for the great comments!

Jose – wow, that sounds like a great experience and it can be really powerful when everyone agrees to give each other constructive, well-thought out feedback. Sounds like it was a great team to work in.

Will – you raise some interesting points about the willingness of the recipient to receive feedback and their ability to ‘get it’. Its really true that the feedback has to be appropriate for where the person is at, otherwise they won’t be able to make use of it. I love the point you make about being yourself and not marching to the drumbeat of others.

Kay – I count myself really lucky to have worked with some great bosses and in a corporate environment early on in my career, where structured feedback was the norm. Its amazing how when people haven’t worked in this type of environment, they are sometimes quite unconfortable giving or receiving constructive feedback. I know we used to use the form of “what I really value about you is….” and “one thing I think you could do better is….” I do love a bit of feedback!

Thanks for your comments Gareth, really good insights and I really like the two bits of advice you mention.

Emma – goodness, that’s a painfully public way to receive that feedback and what a shame that the individual couldn’t have mentioned it to you in private. But as you say, you appreciate the learning points however they are communicated – that shows real strength of character!

Thanks for the brilliant comments and for sharing your feedback 🙂

Woah – feedback eh? I’ve really enjoyed reading this post and all the….feedback 🙂 You’ve prompted me to dig out the last leadership 360 I received as an employee. This is going to hurt a bit. Here goes.

Strengths: Articulate, sharing, the most collaborative individual, gives honest feedback (oh ho!) trustworthy, enthusiastic, genuinely cares about those around him, a most effective democratic leader, listening with interest and thought, acts with integrity, not afraid to challenge, participative (and encourages others to do likewise), a leader with a unique approach.

Development needs (yeah right!): needs focus and clarity, what happens after the ideas? lacks confidence, single minded so greater empathy would help, needs to be harder on others who don’t deliver, more structure and formality (sorry that one’s not gonna happen), be more decisive, the more that Doug can recognise his right to be confident at the most senior table in the company, the more effective he will be for himself and the Group (of companies).

Alison. Thanks for reminding me to take a look at this stuff. It meant something to me when it was first written – and I will use your reminder to try to be better. What fun that will be!

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