Four ways to filter feedback

Not all feedback is useful That's why a filter is needed.

Ruth McGowan Feedback Tips

The candidate had just delivered a winning ‘stump speech’ to a large audience of potential voters in her local town hall. By the end of her pitch, she could feel the support of the audience behind her and left the stage elated.

As she packed up to leave the venue, a friend approached her and said, ‘I want to give you some feedback about what you should have done…” Her heart sank because what followed was a critique of everything the candidate had supposedly done wrong that night; from what she was wearing to what she had not talked about. Her friend thought he was being helpful but his ‘feedback’ risked derailing and deflating the candidate.

Luckily, this candidate was a coaching client of mine. The next day, as we discussed what happened, I was able to share with her a simple and helpful ‘feedback filter’ to consider when receiving feedback. And I want to share it with you too.

Unwanted feedback vs useful advice

Have you ever felt ambushed by someone’s opinions about your life or work – even when you haven’t asked them to comment on what you’re doing?

Let’s face it.  Feedback – even when delivered with the best of intentions – can get your back up.

I’m not talking about useful advice, that’s 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 are curious to listen to advice from an expert.  

It’s important to accept while that feedback can assist you, 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. 

To help you sort the useful feedback from the dross, what you need is a feedback filter.

The Feedback filters 

Motivational speaker Matt Church provides a straightforward way to filter feedback from the helpful to unhelpful. In his book NEXT he 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.”

Church’s model is simple and effective approach to classifying feedback into four categories:

  • 1) SOLICITED advice is when you ask for feedback from someone  
  • 2) UNSOLICITED advice is when someone just gives you advice, even when you didn’t ask for it.
  • 3) The people you receive the feedback from, are either an EXPERT in the topic and experienced or knowledgeable (i.e. qualified to speak on the topic). Or
  • 4) They are NOT EXPERTS, just someone who’s unqualified, giving you their opinion.  

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

  • Did I ask for it?
    and
  • 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 in feedback comes when you can ask an expert for feedback and they are willing provide you with 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, expert advisers around you (often known as the Kitchen Cabinet) who can guide and provide feedback for action.  

How to respond to feedback you don’t seek

If you’re tired of getting unsolicited ‘feedback’ from unqualified people with plenty of opinions, try  these polite replies:

  • “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

And for yourself, 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 feedback, then maybe hold your tongue! 

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

Ruth McGowan OAM is an experienced political campaigner at a local and federal level and a Councillor Coach. She is author of Get Elected; a step-by-step campaign guide to winning public office  

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