Usually, when we receive feedback at work, it's helpful and presented in a positive, constructive way. But sometimes we don't like what we hear...
In an ideal world all supervisors would give feedback rationally and from a place of nurturing. Unfortunately, not all doctors are well versed in the best way to provide feedback, so occasionally it might come across as more harsh than was intended.
You can’t control the content or the delivery of feedback you receive, but you can control your own response. And by doing this, you can make the most of appraisals and reduce the chance of conflict too.
So what does this mean in practice?
- Rein in your emotions. When we’re on the receiving end of disheartening criticism, our natural reactions can range from disappointment to rage. We might feel that our character has been called into question or that it’s about us as a person. It isn’t – it is about performance over the last few weeks or months. Take a second or two to breathe deeply and avoid that first reaction, which you will likely regret. Control your fight or flight response.
- Remember the benefit of feedback to your development. And your supervisors intentions – even if the way in which it’s delivered isn’t ideal. Accurate and constructive feedback can still come from flawed sources.
- Listen for understanding. Having controlled your initial emotions, you can now be open to hear what is being offered. Allow them to say all they have to without interruption and attempts at responding along the way. Quieten your monkey mind and genuinely listen – rather than internally formulating your response.
- Say thank you. OK, this can be hard! It is actually difficult being on the giving end of feedback too, so look your supervisor in the eyes and be deliberate. ‘I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to talk with me about this.’
- Summarise and deconstruct. Now you are in a position to summarise what they have said to demonstrate that you’ve listened – and to clarify for yourself. Ask questions to understand exactly what they feel needs improving. Was this a one-off issue or has it occurred more than once? Ask them to break down broad feedback (‘you’re lazy’) into specifics that can be addressed (ward round jobs are taking too long, and you’re often late to clinic). Seek specific solutions to address the problems that have been identified.
- Explain your perspective. You might not need to respond if you accept what has been suggested without need for explanation. But when you do, it shouldn’t be a counter-attack so avoid being defensive! If you’re criticised for not doing your discharge summaries on time and there are external impediments to this happening that are beyond your control, explain what they are and ask your boss to help find a way to overcome them.
- Agree an action plan. Before you leave, agree together what this might look like – and if necessary, arrange a follow up meeting out of the feedback session to work on the issues that have been identified. Supervisors are there to help you find solutions not just for feedback, so be sure to hold them to that. And hold yourself accountable too – set a timeline so you have something to work to.
Constructive criticism is the only way we can learn about our weaknesses and improve. If we’re accepting and gracious rather than defensive, our personal and professional development will benefit. Every consultant, manager and Director has an annual performance appraisal too, so you’re not alone. And they're not going to go away!