Best Boss Minute | Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?

🎶 May is Music Month with our questions to Danny suggested by song titles.

Today’s Question:

“Like Culture Club asks, Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? How can I determine what’s genuinely meant to be hurtful when my colleagues and direct reports give me hard feedback?”

— Scared in Seattle

I have to say, Scared in Seattle, you are in good company. No matter where you go, there you are. So we bring our egos, our sense of worth, our sense of external validation — we bring that to work, much the way we bring it to the rest of our lives. It’s a lifelong journey, and a good process around internal leadership to separate ourselves from, or not depend on external feedback. But the truth is we count on that feedback loop to know how we are doing in our work. And so there are three things to keep in mind. 

What Can You Learn

When you are getting hard feedback, see if you can reframe that from hard feedback to, “Isn’t that fascinating? Isn’t that interesting? What can I learn from that?” I’m sure you’ve heard the old trope that says, “Feedback is a gift.” Well, in a lot of ways, it really is, even those critical hard pieces of feedback. So there’s much more to this, but the very first thing is, “What can I learn from this? What is the nugget of truth?” Maybe it’s something about yourself, maybe it’s something about your environment, and to be careful with that?

So this isn’t about, “Well, I learned that my boss is a jerk.” That’s not what I mean. What can you learn from the feedback that you’re receiving? Because there’s probably something in there that is useful. And in that way, you stay on top of the feedback, it’s something that’s positive for you. 

Evaluate the Tone

Pay attention to the tone of the feedback. Is it delivered calmly and respectfully, or is it aggressive and confrontational? Constructive feedback is usually delivered in a professional and respectful manner, while feedback intended to be hurtful may be delivered in an aggressive or insulting way.

There really are two channels of communication. There’s what I call the Positive Intelligence channel, or the PQ channel, and the second channel is the data channel. The data channel tends to be how we receive information. It’s the words that come out of somebody’s mouth and it’s the content of those words. 

Running alongside of that is another channel of communication, and that’s the non-verbal communication. It’s the emotional channel, the PQ channel. It’s the tone of the voice. It’s all those things that your gut — when aligned not with your ego, but with being open and receptive to hearing what’s being said on this channel — can be really useful. 

Don’t just take the data channel. The data channel’s where we learn something. But there’s the other channel, the emotional channel, the Positive Intelligence channel that I want you to evaluate as well. So if it’s coming across as confrontational or aggressive, take that into account. Pay attention to that. Be careful about putting too much of your own ego around it, but pay attention. And see if that could help either substantiate the data that you’re receiving or negate the data that you’re receiving. 

If you’re receiving hard feedback, but the underlying channel is one of caring, love and wanting you to succeed, then that’s good information to receive, and really good feedback. 

Consider the Source

Think about the person who is giving you the feedback. Do they have a history of providing constructive feedback or are they known for being confrontational or hurtful? If the person has a reputation for being constructive, their feedback is more likely to be intended to help you improve.

The best feedback, hard or otherwise, comes from folks that we respect. But quite frankly, if it’s from someone you don’t have a lot of respect for, and it doesn’t feel like a worthwhile source, by all means, disregard it. Or again, ask yourself what you can learn from it.

Ultimately, the best way to determine whether feedback is intended to be constructive or

hurtful is to have an open and honest conversation with the person providing the feedback. Ask for clarification and context, and try to approach the conversation with an open mind and a willingness to learn and improve.

About Danny

With over 20 years experience in training and leadership development  — and holding an MBA and an MA in Organizational Development — Danny Ceballos has worked with organizations across the country to strengthen their effectiveness in leading and managing others through supervision+motivation best practices and strategies.