Job Feedback and Career Advice
The topic of career advice and job feedback comes up on a regular basis for me. When networking, I am often asked, “What career advice do you have for me”? Ma and Pa Nasty are turning over in their graves when they hear that some poor soul is so lost they stop by the HRNasty crib for job feedback, but I like to think colleagues know I am going to be straight with my responses and won’t sugar coat anything.
If I had a young mentee or a studious intern with pulled back hair and horned rimmed glasses that wanted to get into management, I would provide the following new job feedback: Learn how to recognize job feedback and advice. Specifically, learn to effectively and diplomatically accept job advice in two instances:
- Learn to graciously accept feedback when it comes to you from out of the blue.
- Learn to recognize feedback when it is given to you.
In regards to category 1, you know the feedback I am talking about:
- You just spent 20 hours of your personal time working on a project that no one asked you to do. After showing initiative, your manager basically gives you the, “You could have done this and you should have done that” kind of feedback. “Well FU too”!
- You just did something you are proud of and receive demoralizing feedback on something completely different. Can’t I be with the hot girl at the dance for just 2 minutes without someone trying to cut in?
As a guy working in HR, I am usually involved in more “sticky” employee situations than I am involved in “Atta Boy / Girl” conversations. Anyone can hand out a raise or give a pat on the back. HR provides a number of services, but at the end of the day, I am here to protect the company and solve employee issues. I see these situations evolve, I see the investigations, I hear what is discussed behind closed doors, what is discussed to the employees (two completely different conversations when the culture is one where employees are rarely let go) and I see the resolutions. The conversations behind the scenes are a chess game of moves trying to anticipate HOW the employee in question is going to react to the job feedback.
- If the manager believes the employee will react badly, that will be one conversation with all sorts of pre-designed counter plays.
- If the employee has a reputation for reacting badly, that will be a more delicate conversation.
- If the employee has a reputation for accepting feedback and making adjustments to behavior in a gracious manner, that is a much easier conversation, and one everyone will embrace.
Guess which of the 3 conversations your manager (the person that gives the blessing you’re your next raise and promotion) wants to have with you?
We all make mistakes. We will all receive job feedback. Some of the job feedback is constructive, some feedback is destructive. We all know that it’s not the intent, but the impact that matters. Despite the intent, guess which of the 3 above employees will continue to climb the corporate ladder after demoralizing job feedback has been delivered.
How we react to feedback is judged in a number of ways. We are critiqued on our body language, how quickly we admit fault or deny actions, and how we defend our innocence to name just a few.
An innocent person, defending their innocence in a belligerent and defensive manner is as good as guilty.
The innocent may be cleared of the charges, but everyone around them will remember how the innocent party reacted vs. remembering the innocence.
A well-performing employee, reacting badly to feedback will only be remembered for reacting badly.
For this reason, I coach colleagues to lay low and remain calm when the recipient of uninspiring or demoralizing job feedback.
Win an argument with a jackass, you will only be king of the jackasses.
Of course, we never realize we are being negatively critiqued because that conversation is all going on in your manager’s head with their inside voice. A literally running commentary similar to the below:
Manager: Johnny I know we talked about this last week. I really need you be in the office by 9:00.
Johnny Employee: Traffic was really bad this morning. I was cut off on the highway and missed my exit. I just wish folks would learn how to drive in bad weather. When will people learn how to drive in this city?
Manager’s inside voice: “Holy shit, did he really just say that? All this guy ever gives me is excuses. What did I see in this guy in the job interview? All I want him to do is to show up on time. LEAVE F*&^ing EARLIER DUMBASS! If it isn’t his dog, it is traffic or the bus was late. Always excuses with this one. Don’t yell at me buddy, I didn’t come in late. I was here at 7:30 AM. It’s 9:10 right now. Excuses, Excuses, Excuses. I was going to have coffee with that hot new manager in Accounting, but now I am in such a shitty mood. It isn’t even 10:00 am. I get this guy is smart, but the bullshit I have to put up with isn’t worth it. How many times do we have to go through this with this guy? I wish HR would just let me fire this dumbass”.
The manager actually says with a grin f*&^ing smile:
Yes, the rain has been a problem here. I am going to suggest we set our alarm earlier so we can have a few extra minutes for our commute.
Johnny Employee: But I don’t know the night before if the traffic going to be a problem or not.
The manager’s inside voice: This little punk ass!
Do you think Johnny (come lately), is going to be receiving a raise or a promotion anytime soon? Not if his manager has any input.
Most importantly, we need to recognize when job feedback is being delivered. Being asked to show up on time was well-intentioned job feedback. Most manager’s start with well-intentioned “feedback” and frustration only kicks in when the feedback isn’t recognized for what it is. If the initial reaction is poor, the manager will move from DEFCON5 to DEFCON 1 and skip the 3 steps in the middle. We go from the “feedback” zone to the “I am pissed, this is a direct order” zone. We are at DEFCON 1 people and nuclear war is imminent. We are past the state of readiness and our manager is now ready to blow up.
Without a doubt, these sticky situations went to an increased state of readiness when someone became defensive, didn’t want to listen, huffed and puffed, or was resistant to the job feedback.
As much as we would like to think we are judged on our accomplishments, the judgments that matter are the ones that are served behind closed doors and trust me, you are on the outside looking in. Even in the face of adversity, we need to be professional.
If you want to be a leader, manager, or hold a senior individual contributor role, then results won’t be enough. The ability to handle constructive and deconstructive feedback is what will matter. No one wants to promote an employee that throws a tantrum or raises a fit when they are corrected or given constructive feedback. The career advice I would provide to the intern? Learn to not only recognize when feedback is being delivered, but be gracious when accepting of feedback.
See you at the after party,
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.
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