Four ways to filter feedback

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

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?
  • 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  

When I met Australia’s first female PM

Once upon a time we had a female Prime Minister

It’s been ten years since Australia had our first female Prime Minister, the Hon. Julia Gillard AC and she remains a role model for women in politics.

When it comes to dreaming about getting into political offices, every young woman needs to know it is possible because it has been done before.  

In the years since June 24, 2010, every little girl -and woman – who has dreamt of entering politics – can look back and know that from 2010-2013, our country was led by a woman.

However, we haven’t had another women PM since then. Why not?

Australia’s international ranking for the percentage of women in politics has slipped to 55th in the world, down from 26th, when Ms Gillard was first elected in 1998 (source: Inter-Parliamentary Union) Currently, we still have fewer than one-third of women in the Lower House in Australia’s Federal Parliament.

This week I spoke to the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) Australia about what needs to be done to help more women Get Elected so we can reach Gender Equality in Australian Politics.

You can be what you see

Visible leadership of women in power, at the highest level, means all women aspiring to public office can now see what is possible. I am grateful to Julia Gillard for being ‘the first’ in this area of female political leadership.

I first met Julia Gillard in 2009, when she was Deputy PM. I was the local Mayor for Baw Baw Shire Council. It was the days following the Black Saturday bushfire disaster that devastated my community. Julia Gillard came to visit the fire-affected areas, speaking first-hand with survivors and local officials to learn about the impact of the fire and understand where support was needed. She listened to stories of survivors and heard about the impact this unprecedented natural disaster had on peoples lives and the challenges for local government services. As a result, support and additional funding came in the months of recovery ahead. This was welcomed by those trying to rebuild their lives.

I was delighted to meet Julia Gillard again in February this year, at Victoria’s Government House. She spoke at a gathering of Pathways to Politics alumni and chatted with dozens of admiring women afterwards. I was thrilled to gift her a copy of my book Get Elected, written to support more women to run for public office.  This meeting has been a highlight of 2020.

Ten years on, let us celebrate this milestone in Women’s leadership. I hope that we won’t have to wait too long to see the next female Prime Minister.