How to Handle Poor-Quality Feedback
"You're very professional."
"You're very articulate."
"You're very good with people.
"You work very hard."
These are all examples of poor-quality feedback. It's not inherently negative feedback, it just isn't very useful. These types of comments are non-actionable; they don't tell you anything that will help your career growth as you move forward.
Black and Brown women are often the recipients of poor-quality feedback.
A Forbes survey of over 25,000 people and 250 organizations found that Black and Brown women received more general, non-beneficial feedback than other groups. Being told that you're a "professional" and an "over-achiever" is positive, but how will it help you reach the next level in your career?
Unfortunately, we are often given feedback that is not beneficial to our career progression. Because the information isn't helpful, it doesn't make a difference in salary or help us get those promotions.
The connection between feedback, race, and relationships.
Another aspect of the poor feedback issue may have to do with race. Generally speaking, our bosses don't look like us. As a result, some managers may be hesitant to provide us with harsher feedback, fearing that we may get defensive or combative. The "Angry Black Woman" stereotype may stop them from providing the detailed feedback we need to move ahead and improve.
And while that's a bad assumption on their part, it's also why authentic work relationships are so important. If you haven't taken the time to build the relationships and write the narrative that you know is true about you, then that stereotype may get in the way of useful feedback, and ultimately, your progression.
Taking control of the narrative by building relationships and establishing your brand is crucial to getting yourself to the next step in your career.
Peel back the onion!
If growth opportunities need to be addressed (I prefer to refer to them as opportunities rather than gaps or weaknesses), make sure those comments are based on data and facts. Ask for examples of their observations whenever possible. Also, ask what you can do specifically to address that opportunity.
Even if the feedback you receive is positive, don't let it stop there! Ask probing questions about the positive feedback as well. Here's how:
I'm a great communicator? Tell me how.
Are there any areas that I can strengthen?
Oh, the team loves working with me. Oh, thank you, I really appreciate that. So what is it about how I lead a team that makes everyone want to work with me?
When you start digging into the hows, whys, and what fors, these observations become more than general statements. What can you do specifically to address that opportunity? Be intentional about asking for actionable feedback.
Make it meaningful!
By asking deep questions, you can transform poor-quality feedback into valuable information. Ask those quality questions, put the information in your arsenal, and take actionable steps to turn things around. That's how we use some of the systemic things that take place in performance reviews and shift them for us individually in our favor. We can't wait for the systems to change; we must drive that change ourselves. Let's use these opportunities to move the needle.