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When To Ignore Feedback (And When You Should Listen)

A guide to identify the feedback that can help you grow, and how to tune out the meaningless advice that won’t help you reach your goals.

When To Ignore Feedback (And When You Should Listen)
[Photo: Flickr user Michael Heigl]

While the ability to absorb both praise and criticism is vital to growth and improvement, if we listened to all the feedback we’re given, we’ll end up with information overload, and helpful information gets ignored and feedback that ends up destroying our psyche gets stuck.

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So how can you identify what feedback you need to digest, and what the meaningless pieces of advice are that don’t pertain to your goals? After all, not everyone knows how to give constructive criticism. For example, a recently published survey conducted by the HR company TriNet and Wakefield found that more than half of millennials feel their managers are typically unprepared when giving feedback during performance reviews.

As founder of AnaOno, a collection of intimates made for women who have undergone breast surgery related to a cancer diagnosis, Dana Donofree says she receives a lot of feedback—especially when her business first launched.

“I had to absorb it because I had to educate myself from a marketing perspective to explain it better next time,” Donofree told Fast Company during Women’s Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations. “At the same time, [the feedback] is not steering what direction I’m heading in, or who I’m really trying to help,” she added.

Dorie Clark, author of the book Stand Out, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that she doesn’t listen to feedback, saying that most is either “useless or destructive.” She writes:

As my business has grown and my visibility has increased, I have received a steady stream of feedback. And for the sake of my own sanity—and accomplishing the goals that are most important to me—I’ve generally decided to tune out other people’s suggestions and advice.

Clark says she particularly ignores feedback when it’s:

1. Vague, such as comments like, “It’s not as strong as it could have been,” which does nothing to help you improve, but can only make you more frustrated with so-called shortcomings.

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2. Comes from a dubious source, such as someone who doesn’t even know you, but feels it’s okay to pass along their feedback because the Internet has made it easy for them to do so. In short, always consider the source when thinking about what to do with feedback.

All of which to say is that feedback on professional or personal development should always be considered carefully, as the wrong ones have the chance of diverting you from important goals. When feedback comes from a trustworthy source and you think you should listen to it, always do the following:

1. Ask follow-up questions. Even if it’s your supervisor, press them to be specific when they say your report can be “better.”

2. Go with your gut. “It’s a feeling that you know and, as cofounder of a company, you need to know what’s going to help the business and what you want to experiment with and apply,” says Emily Nunez Cavness, cofounder of the repurposed military surplus fashion business, Sword & Plough.

3. Don’t take feedback personally. At last year’s annual Women in the World Summit, Hillary Clinton advised young professionals to “take criticism seriously—not personally.” In other words, when criticism feels like it’s punching you directly in the gut, know how to stop it from killing your confidence. Instead, consider what the person said, detach yourself (and your self-esteem) from the situation, and think about what part of the criticism is useful. Consider writing this down so you can brainstorm ways to improve.

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About the author

Vivian Giang is a business writer of gender conversations, leadership, entrepreneurship, workplace psychology, and whatever else she finds interesting related to work and play. You can find her on Twitter at @vivian_giang.

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