Paste your Google Webmaster Tools verification code here

3 Steps for Managing Surprise Constructive Feedback

3 Steps for Managing Surprise Constructive Feedback

Surprise Constructive Feedback – You may not believe it but it is important!


You know the kind of feedback, the type that comes totally unexpected and catches you off guard. It usually sends you in a tailspin of emotions.

Once I received surprise written feedback from a client, saying that at times I spoke to them in a condescending voice. My first reaction was to say, “No I didn’t, and you don’t know what you’re talking about”.

My second reaction was “I am not that fond of the person anyway so their opinion doesn’t mean much to me”.

My third, and most reasonable, reaction was “That’s horrible, I feel so bad. Was I really condescending? If so why and what can I do to alter my behaviour?”

For my brain to run through these reactions took about 5 minutes, without talking to anyone.

At times, you may receive personal constructive feedback that you are surprised to hear. You may believe it to be true or not but the fact of the matter is that it has been said to you and now you need to react.

What do you do with this sort of feedback? A common initial reaction is to blow it off as just a “one-off” and deny that it could even be true or on the other hand, express extreme concern that your behaviour has a negative effect on someone. Thoughts such as “It doesn’t really matter, it’s only one or two people who feel this way” are also common.

unhappy-man-1169946_960_720Sure, at the end of the day, feedback is just one person’s opinion, it’s not who you are or what you do but if the feedback comes from someone you are leading or have some authority over, it needs to be noted, accepted and responded to.

Clearly, my first reaction was of no benefit to anyone and the reason you should never send an email or write a social media post when you are upset is you are not thinking clearly and will often regret the words you write.

Other than the fact that addressing any kind of personal constructive feedback, as a leader, is the RIGHT thing to do, it can also have a tremendous effect on your team’s performance. If your leadership actions have a negative effect on a team member, enough for them to give you the surprise feedback, it is clearly affecting their ability to successfully work within the team. It will consequently affect the overall team performance.

Here are 3 Steps to Managing Surprise Constructive Feedback.

1.    Investigate

After receiving the surprise feedback, set up a convenient meeting time to meet in private to discuss their thoughts and feelings. Having this discussion is critical for you to digest the feedback. When you only receive snippets of information, your mind will usually fill in the rest of the story or come up with multiple stories, most of which are far from the truth.

Sometimes, your communication or actions may have been interpreted the wrong way and once you have clarified them, the person may even want to take their feedback back with the whole thing being a misunderstanding. Or, by learning the full story from the team member, you can clearly see how your actions could have had a negative effect on that person.

2.    Develop a Plan

Now that you have a clear picture of how your behaviours are impacting the person, ask them (if it is not obvious) how they would like you to change your behaviour so they never feel this way again. Once the required changes have been laid out, develop a plan for how you are going to make the changes and when you will follow up with the people to ensure you have fully addressed their feedback and made the changes they needed you to make.

3.    Alter Your Behaviour (If Needed)

Your plan should included a set time and place for a quick check-in to confirm your behaviour has changed. This could be a 5-minute informal check-in. The most important thing is that it is not brushed off. To avoid the potential awareness of a check-in, people will often look at the person and say something like “We’re still good right”. This gives the person little opportunity to respond without feeling even more awkward as you are practically putting words in their mouth.

As for my surprise feedback, one person under my leadership felt this way so it was important that I address it. Whether I was actually speaking in a condescending voice or not was irrelevant. What was most important is the persons feelings were hurt based on my behaviour as a leader and I needed to address that.

Action: The next time you receive ‘surprise’ constructive feedback from someone you are leading, do not speak or publish your first reaction. Take the time to investigate and learn how your behaviour is specifically affecting them.

Embrace the Adventure

Shawn Stratton is an international leadership and team building consultant, professional speaker, bestselling author and Ironman competitor. 

Click here to learn more about how Shawn can help your organization.

© 2016 Shawn Stratton. All rights reserved.