How to handle feedback to drive action, not stymie progress

4 ways to Filter Feedback

by Ruth McGowan

How to handle feedback to drive action, not stymie progress

4 ways to Filter Feedback

by Ruth McGowan

by Ruth McGowan

The candidate had just delivered a winning stump speech to a huge audience of potential voters in a local town hall. By the end of her pitch, she had many people on her side and left the forum elated. But just as she was finishing, a friend walked over and said, ‘I wanted to give you some feedback. What you should have done was …”

What followed was a critique of everything the candidate had done wrong that night; from what she was wearing to what she hadn’t talked about. Her friend thought he was being helpful, but his comments left the candidate in a deflated mood. Luckily this candidate was a coaching client of mine. As we discussed what happened, I was able to share with her a simple ‘feedback filter’ to consider when receiving feedback.

Unwanted feedback vs useful advice

Let’s face it.  Feedback – even when delivered with the best of intentions – can get your back up. Ever felt ambushed by someone’s opinions about your life or work when you haven’t even asked them to comment on what you’re doing?

I’m not talking about useful advice, provided in a helpful way by someone who knows their stuff. There’s a difference. For example, check your reaction when someone who knows nothing about your area of expertise says, “I want to give you some feedback” compared to an expert who asks, “can I give you some advice?” Most people will brace for the inevitable negative comments that come with the first statement yet may be curious to listen to advice from an expert.

The four feedback filters 

Here’s a straightforward way to filter feedback from the helpful to unhelpful. Its drawn from the excellent advice of Thought Leader and motivational speaker Matt Church, who writes about “When to listen to feedback” in his latest book NEXT. Matt (who is an expert!) advises:

“Not all feedback is good, constructive or useful. Take control and be strategic about who you listen to and what advice you take on board.” (Matt Church)

Based on this approach, it’s important to accept while that feedback can assist you to act, not all advice is good advice. Too much ‘white noise’ of others’ opinions can paralyse and confuse you, especially when it’s not asked for or comes from people who don’t know what they are talking about.

Matt Church’s model is simple with an effective approach to classifying feedback into these four categories:

  • SOLICITED advice is when you ask for feedback from someone
  • UNSOLICITED advice is when someone just gives you advice, even when you didn’t ask for it.

Overlaying this is the second filter; qualified or not.

  • The people you receive the feedback from, are either an EXPERT on the topic and experienced or knowledgeable (i.e. qualified to speak on the topic). Or
  • They are NOT EXPERT, just someone who’s unqualified, giving you their opinion.

When to listen to feedback; diagram adapted from NEXT by Matt  Church

Quickly sort feedback

To understand what category feedback falls into, Matt suggests you ask yourself these two questions:

1) Did I ask for it? and 2) Is this person qualified to have an opinion?

If the person is unqualified to have an opinion and you didn’t ask for it, you have the option to ignore it. On the other hand, even if you didn’t ask for it, but the person is qualified, you may want to consider the feedback. If the person isn’t qualified but you asked for their feedback, there is an opportunity to take the information on board as data, that may or may not inform your action.

The real gold comes when you can ask an expert for feedback and they are willing to provide you with some informed advice.

That’s the sort of feedback worth acting on. For candidates in political campaign mode like my client, it is crucial to have a team of trusted advisers (often known as the Kitchen Cabinet) who can guide and provide feedback for action.

How to respond next time you get feedback you don’t want

If you’re tired of getting unsolicited ‘feedback’ from unqualified people with plenty of opinions, I suggest here are a few polite replies you could use:

  • “Thank you for your opinion”
  • “Thank you, you may be right”
  • “Thank you, however, I need to focus right now but next time I want your advice I’ll be sure to ask for it”
  • Simply smile, nod and move on

Ultimately, feedback and advice can be great, especially for showing up blind spots that you may not be aware of. However, feedback should lead to an improvement in your work, not stymie action or knock your confidence.

Perhaps next time you feel a desire to give someone feedback, consider if a) you are qualified and experienced to pass it on and b) if the person has asked for it. If it’s just a random opinion and the person has not asked for it, maybe hold your tongue!

Ruth McGowan OAM is an experienced political campaigner at a local and federal level. As a past Mayor, she mentors political candidates and was previously Campaign Coordinator for her sister Cathy McGowan’s successful political campaigns as an independent candidate for the Federal electorate of Indi. Ruth is currently writing a book to assist candidates to get elected to public office.

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