Four things to do with surprising feedback

Every now again someone gives you some feedback that in one way or another completely stumps you. My own particular favourite was someone who wrote on their workshop evaluation sheet “Tim is very tall”!

When faced with something as left-field as this, what are your options?

1. Ignore it

Sometimes the only sensible thing to do is smile sweetly, say thank you and move on: some things are just not worth worrying about.

The problem with this approach is that you might be missing something valuable. Just because someone has an off-the-wall perspective or a viewpoint that no-one else shares, it doesn’t mean that it’s not worth listening to. When looking through workshop evaluations for example, many trainers just look at the overall trend and dismiss atypical responses with an “oh well, you can’t please all the people all the time”. Although I’d never suggest you should dwell on or over-react to individual negative or unusual comments, it’s definitely worth getting curious.

2. Ask questions

If possible talk to the individual to find out more about their comment. Ask lots of questions and try and explore what it was that made them give that particular feedback. Their experience or viewpoint may be different, but it’s equally valid and worthy of respect. If you can’t talk to them, at least ask yourself what might be underpinning their comment.

3. Change your behaviour

The whole point of feedback is to provide an opportunity for change. You shouldn’t of course become a weather vane, constantly changing in response to the prevailing wind; but even the most peculiar comment may initiate a slight alteration to the way you do things, or suggest a new skill you could add to your repertoire.

Some things, like my height, may seem beyond possible change. Over the years however I’ve developed a habit of perching on the edge of tables when running training courses; it gives me a little bit of height when I want to say something while avoiding the risk of looming over people.

4. Embrace it

The very thing that may at first seem a drawback could possibly be turned into a strength. Instead of trying to change or minimise it, you could use it as something that makes you memorable and helps you stand out from the crowd. I’m quite happy to be thought of as tall if it helps people remember who I am – as long as that’s not the only thing they remember.

So whatever feedback you’re given, no matter how bizarre or unpalatable, take an extra moment to consider it. There’s always the option to ignore or dismiss it, but by becoming curious first you may find something of real worth that helps you develop.