In a recent coaching call with a service member getting ready to leave the Navy, I asked her if she'd received any feedback on her skills, expertise or attitude. Her response surprised me.
"I recently solicited feedback on who I am and how people perceive me," she said. "And, I'm going through all the negative comments and making all the changes. I'm making myself into someone everyone will want to work with!"
She shared this with such confidence and glee that I believe she meant it: She's received negative input and was changing her personality, her attitude and her workstyle to "fix" all the things people said were broken.
But what if she also changed good stuff? What if she'd asked the wrong people and received the wrong feedback? Why was she trying to be everything to everyone?
When Feedback Is Helpful
When growing your career -- particularly as you exit the military and enter the civilian sector -- feedback is helpful to assess where you are (currently) in order to develop a plan for where you want to be (eventually).
In this way, asking for input on how people perceive you is critical. Since perception drives belief, if the people you seek to influence perceive you incorrectly, your opportunities could be limited. For instance, if your peers and supervisors see you as non-collaborative, pushy or opinionated, this could be a challenge if you are moving to a career where those traits are important.
If you were moving into a people-centric profession like sales or human resources, being collaborative and open minded are important. On the other hand, if you are moving towards a career as a political pundit, being opinionated and pushy are valuable traits.
Feedback that points out a weakness, blind spot or opportunity to move your career and reputation in a positive direction is helpful and valuable. If your boss told you that you should speak up more in meetings, your colleague tells you that the new team doesn't like your tasteless jokes or your business partner tells you your accounting skills are lacking then your workstyle, approach and career skills warrant fixing.
Feedback That Isn't Helpful
Just because you receive feedback doesn't mean you should always modify your behavior or change your approach. Someone who doesn't have all the information to make a judgement can offer feedback based on misinformation. Someone who has a bias towards you could describe you as "cutthroat". A jealous colleague who calls you flashy, superficial or competitive may be sharing their own insecurities instead of providing insight about you.
Similar to getting feedback from the unqualified you may receive feedback that reflects something as a negative, but in fact is a positive. For example, early in my career, I was often told I was too energetic, too outgoing and talked too much. Had I changed my behavior based on that feedback, I may never have become the speaker, presenter and trainer I am today.
Don't change the parts of you that make you special, memorable and valuable. You may be in the wrong job or group to fully exploit your best assets. In that case, changing your environment can unleash your best talents and display the value you bring. When I left corporate America and started my own business, my skills, assets and personality flourished.
It wasn't that my personality was wrong -- I was just expressing it in the wrong job.
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