How can I recover from upward feedback?
February 22, 2007 4:44 AM   Subscribe

How can I recover my confidence after upward feedback that was less than complimentary?

I received some quite confronting, harsh criticism from a very experienced team member yesterday. It was mainly about my decisions about the scope of a project, issues currently unresolved and my efforts in getting the team understanding and working on their allocated deliverables. The thing is, I think he's probably right on the team side of things. I didn't argue and accepted his feedback and today have come in with a new effort to fix the problems and get things back on track.

Here's the real problem - I've found it to be a real confidence sapping experience. I've dealt with criticism and advertisity before in the workplace, but now I find myself doubting so much that I'm becoming less productive than before. I think the team member has noticed, because now he's asking for my input on inconsequential things. If I've corrected the original source of the problem, how can I get back on track?

Side point that are probably relevant, he has far more experience and I've previously made it clear that I value his opinion. I am usually seen by my mgt as a productive and useful employee (we have frequent written feedback to validate this). Now I almost feel that he's directing my work and I've lost all momentum - help!

(anon because peers read mefi)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If this team member thought you weren't a valuable colleague, he wouldn't have paid you the compliment of spending time highlighting weaknesses in your approach and habits.

He was harsh because he trusted you to be able to handle the criticism, take it on board and still be effective in your work. Now is the time to repay that trust. You had a bad day of self-doubting, which is fine - now get back to work and prove yourself. Find an area you feel confident in, where you've previously been praised and do some of that to remind yourself that there's a good reason you're doing this job.

You have a great opportunity to gain serious respect as someone who can take and act on valid criticism. Very few people can - it sounds like you're one of them.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 5:07 AM on February 22, 2007 [6 favorites]

What Busy Old Fool said.

Criticism really stings, but it's better to be told than have your team think you're a fool. You'll have to rebuild your confidence slowly - that's good as too much confidence = arrogance.
posted by TrashyRambo at 5:12 AM on February 22, 2007

Kudos to your colleague for speaking up. If he wanted to undermine you, he would have said nothing and worked behind the scenes to make you look bad. He has given you a real opportunity. And it may be that asking for your input on inconsequential things is his way of getting you to make small decisions leading to bigger ones.

As team lead, it's fine to rely on your team, and its strong members, to help you guide the project. Make decisions that are team decisions, where you have gotten input and buy-in from the whole team. The team will appreciate this, and you will look like a strong leader. Just make sure you acknowledge their contributions often.
posted by genefinder at 5:24 AM on February 22, 2007

If this team member thought you weren't a valuable colleague, he wouldn't have paid you the compliment of spending time highlighting weaknesses in your approach and habits.

Sorry, but that's starry-eyed bollocks, which risks reinforcing anon's problem. IMO. What, if he didn't like you so much he wouldn't bother to slap your face every morning?

Constructive feedback, thoughtfully given, is helpful: but we're talking about confronting, harsh criticism bad enough to damage anon's confidence. That's an entirely different matter and not really acceptable behaviour. IMO.

I think anon is a nice-natured person who hasn't established clearly enough that the team need to treat him/her with appropriate respect. He/she needs to learn the unpleasant business of being a little less friendly and just slightly more of a bastard. IMHO.
posted by Phanx at 5:34 AM on February 22, 2007

I agree that the harsh criticism doesn't necessarily mean the co-worker respects you, but the fact that he's trying to make it up to you does. I was just in a similiar position with the roles reversed, and I think that since your co-worker is trying to make you feel more comfortable says a lot -- he might recognize that the criticism was unduly harsh and affected you more than expected.

I think you're the only one who can rebuild your confidence, and that will take time. Focus on the things you know you're good at, or at correcting the problem that your co-worker mentioned. If you really feel like you need your co-worker's validation, ask to have a follow-up meeting with him in order to clarify some of his advice, and then ask if you've fixed the problem appropriately. (If you have, it should provide some good positive feedback -- if not, hopefully he'll be nicer about it).

Other than that, I think the only thing you can do is not let it affect your work. When I've been harshly criticized about something, it generally takes about a week or two to get over it. I talk to a friend outside of work who I know will be supportive in order to build my ego back up again.
posted by lilac girl at 6:17 AM on February 22, 2007

Maybe you can ask for a second meeting. You can tell your respected team member that you value his opinion but that you are now in some sort of limbo because of it. Maybe he has some constructive ideas about it? Maybe he doesn't know the criticism hurt you in some way? As for getting back on track: I think that can only happen if you allow yourself to feel what happened. Be gentle with yourself. See what else is there. Does this rejection resemble something else in your life? Did you already feel undervalued at work before this happened? Who or what can help you to feel valued?

Good luck!
posted by hz37 at 6:17 AM on February 22, 2007

Good, it sounds like you're still learning... That's not a problem - When you totally stop learning in a job is when to start getting worried.

Possibly the team member's words may have been better selected (to encourage rather than shock), but if the information's right, take it, learn from it, use it and move on.
posted by Dub at 6:27 AM on February 22, 2007

My partner is often in the position of your team member. Usually he handles giving criticism with aplomb, but sometimes he's harsher than he means, and then he comes home and worries about how the other person is doing. This reminds me of those situations: the criticism is not undeserved, but the delivery sucked. The fact that your team member is trying to make things up to you suggests that he thinks he was unduly harsh.

Try to take confidence in the fact that he still obviously values your input. If you do a follow up meeting, don't ask about the criticism, but instead tell him what you have done to correct the problem. This may even give him the opportunity to give you some confidence-building praise. At the very least, by making a little report on your changes and progress, you can assure yourself that you know how to respond to criticism and that you are capable of fixing problems.

Focus on your own abilities, and remember, sometimes people are harsh because of you, but often they are harsh because of all kinds of non-you factors, like how much sleep they got, how they are getting along at home and/or with their own bosses, and what screw-ups they may have done themselves recently that they are feeling shitty about.
posted by carmen at 6:59 AM on February 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

Good, it sounds like you're still learning... That's not a problem - When you totally stop learning in a job is when to start getting worried.

Seconding that. Nobody comes in knowing every fact and skill they need for their job. The difference between good and bad workers is largely how good people are at learning over time -- at figuring out what they don't know or have difficulty doing (facts, people skills, personality traits) and then seeking ways to improve and compensate. So I'd take confidence from the fact that you are clearly open to suggestion and work hard to correct issues whenever they arise. What more could someone ask, really?
posted by salvia at 7:34 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Tonight, go out and have a beer and go bowling. Then sit back after a few frames and be happy that you have peers that will be honest with you about things instead of just talking about you behind your back.
posted by drstein at 9:19 AM on February 22, 2007

Maybe try thanking the person, and putting yourself out in the open. If s/he cares about you or your work, (which appears to be true, since they are trying to help you to get back in the game) they shouldn't have a problem helping you out a little. If they don't, they would likely be humbled by your forthrightness. Either way, you'll have learned something valuable about your relationship with this important (to you) individual.
posted by troubadour at 10:36 AM on February 22, 2007

I didn't argue and accepted his feedback and today have come in with a new effort to fix the problems and get things back on track.

This makes me think that you are a good boss. No matter how much praise one receives, it's natural to focus on the criticism. You have interpreted the criticism in a healthy way. You have looked at the acts that you can alter. In the short run, it doesn't help the sting, but in the long run you'll be better than the person who interprets conflict as necessarily a personal attack (and, who knows, maybe it was).
posted by ferdydurke at 12:16 PM on February 22, 2007

You people are such Pollyannas: you really think all criticism is motivated by kindness?
posted by Phanx at 3:22 PM on February 22, 2007

Realize that overly harsh criticism is probably more about your team member and his/her problems than it is about you. Is this sort of behavior a habit with them? If not, maybe they were just having a particularly bad day. If that's the case, maybe another talk about it will clear the air. Either way, just try to let it go. The workplace society is messy. If you're really trying, you're better than most everyone around you.
posted by DarkForest at 4:26 PM on February 22, 2007

make sure you totally define the problem. if there is any area of the criticism you dont understand, ask. then make a plan to fix each individual problem. if you dont know how to so something, ask someone with more experience that you respect. if he is a good mentor, he will support you and be happy to make suggestions.
posted by edtut at 3:17 AM on February 24, 2007

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