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One of the most difficult conversations I had with a former mentor about my performance didn’t really feel like a conversation. It felt more like an attack:

‘Have you received feedback about your performance lately?’

‘Yes, I just had a review with my leader and project coach. They had great things to say about my work on the project and we discussed a few development areas related to broadening my FICO experience and public speaking.’

‘Oh, I guess so and so should have told you this already. I’ve received feedback that you have a tendency to be… well… kind of whiny.’

At first I felt confused. Then I blamed my mentor for delivering the review poorly by using an undescriptive word and not explaining. I was too embarassed to ask her to elaborate and I tried to change the conversation to avoid discussing it further. It felt like a big shock to my ego after receiving many glowing reviews from project members and leaders. I left the room feeling like everyone felt this way. I wracked my brain for a specific time when I demonstrated this behavior. The word kept repeating in my brain. ‘WHINY, WHINY, WHINY.’

Reflecting on it now, it’s kind of silly. Sure, we all complained about long work hours while traveling for Go Live or about the cafeteria food in France. What bothered me was that it wasn’t an issue with the work I delivered on the project, it was an issue with how I delivered the work. I had a close relationship with my team members and I couldn’t help but feel like one of my coworkers was trying to make me look bad. Soon I was more focused on blaming someone else then changing my behavior.

Here’s how I would advise to handle a situation like this next time.

  • Listen closely to the feedback, but don’t overanalyze and make a big fuss out of the exact words. Remember that it’s difficult to deliver negative feedback.
  • Try not to be on the defensive. Thank them for sharing their concern. ‘I appreciate you mentioning this concern. I will certainly keep this in mind.’
  • Ensure you understand specifically what you did or in what instance this occured. Try to get at the root of the issue. ‘Can you give me a situation where I exhibited this behavior? I want to make sure I understand what I did wrong so I can correct it.’
  • After the conversation, take time to reflect. Consider discussing the feedback with other mentors. It can be valuable to see if other leaders or peers agree or disagree. However, be careful how you approach this discussion. Be open to receiving criticisms.
  • Decide whether or not to make a change. Remember that most performance feedback is subjective.

Overall, try to put your ego aside and either make a change or move on!

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12 Comments

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  1. Michelle Crapo

    It depends on how the feedback was handled.  One time it was handled VERY badly to me.  I was told what a failure I was – basically to everyone up to and including the company….  This was after my Grandfather had just passed away.  Try to walk away from that.   Well I didn’t instead I snipped back at the person about how wrong they were, and started crying.  Not the best way to react to feedback.  So was it my fault?  Was it the other person’s delivery?

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    1. Tanya Duncan Post author
      I really enjoy your comments Michelle!

      I still don’t know how to interpret the feedback she gave me. I blamed it on delivery for a while and it took me a few weeks to stop thinking about it and move on. If it was purely about the quality of work or something more concrete that she could have identified, I think I would have been able to accept it and not let it affect me. When I brought it up to my leader and mentor they were confused about the feedback as well. It helped to hear that and know that it wasn’t like everyone thought I was a big whiner!

      You make a good point that feedback can often be given with an intent to upset the person receiving it. There are definitely people in the workplace that are threatened by others, and that’s an ideal time for them to make you feel insignificant. I don’t think that was the intent in my case, but it would have been more effective if the person who had the issue expressed it to me directly instead of through the grapevine.

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  2. Graham Robinson
    Hi Tanya,

    I enjoyed your post – but it left me a little concerned. It seems to me that the person you described as your “mentor” did you a dis-service. They delivered a message to you that you had trouble understanding and therefore I think they did a poor job advising you.

    Whilst the term mentor is usually applied to someone who is a trusted advisor and counselor I prefer the simpler definition of “teacher”.

    A teachers’ job is to teach. Outside the setting of formal education and training I think most people are taught by the example of others. We observe how others behave and respond to certain situations and then we can use these examples and experiences to mould our own response to similar situations in future. Therefore we are all teachers because we provide examples for those around us all the time.

    Of course there are also formal teachers – most obviously in the education sector. But just because you have the formal title of “Teacher” doesn’t mean you are automatically a good teacher. I am sure we can all remember great teachers we have had in the past. If we place these great teachers on a higher pedestal than our other teachers by definition we must also have had some poor teachers as well.

    It is my view that we can learn as much from poor teachers, and their poor examples, as we can from good teachers. Seeing someone do something poorly helps us understand what not to do – which helps us know what to do. So we can achieve positive personal results from everyone and every example.

    Returning to your experience, I can understand how confused you became after getting this feedback. I applaud you for the way you have analysed how you received the feedback and sought better ways to respond to negative feedback. But I think you were right to also reflect on the way your mentor delivered this piece of feedback. It seems to me that given the same situation but putting yourself in the mentor role you would think a bit harder about how you delivered this feedback, even if you should deliver the feedback at all, and you would do a better job than your mentor did with you.

    And in doing so you would provide a great example to the person receiving the feedback.

    Cheers
    Graham Robbo

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    1. Tanya Duncan Post author
      Thanks Graham. I certainly agree that there are all types of teachers/mentors, and it’s true that you learn more from those that are poor mentors. You’re right that this can be taken as a reminder for those on the other side that giving performance feedback is a delicate conversation and off the cuff comments can have a long lasting impression. It’s better to have clear examples and coach the mentee on how to improve.
      Thanks again for your comment!
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      1. Michelle Crapo
        My smile for a Monday morning!

        Whinny?  Complainer? 

        -Or agent for change?

        What’s the difference?  Where is the line?  That would be an interesting blog.  I know my definition.  But what is yours?

        By the way – I do both whine and try to be an agent for change.  Just in case you are wondering.  I think we all so our share of complaining.  Is that whinny?  I think it sounds worse when you say whinny vs. complaining.  Another interesting thought!  I wonder why that is.

        Were you really whinny?  I doubt it.  I could be wrong I wasn’t there.  It’s nice that you learned something, but don’t forget there are times we need to champion change.  Those times some people will call you whinny.  Why?  Because they don’t like change.  You have to repeat your message sometimes more than the 3 times it takes for people to remember it!

        Hope to see more of your blogs!

        Michelle

        PS Try not to take it too much to heart.  It sounds like a personal attack.  Those are not really the ones to listen to.  Maybe take something small from it.  But try not to let it bother you too much.  I do the opposite than my advice of course.  It’s easier to say than do!

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      2. Michelle Crapo
        My smile for a Monday morning!

        Whinny?  Complainer? 

        -Or agent for change?

        What’s the difference?  Where is the line?  That would be an interesting blog.  I know my definition.  But what is yours?

        By the way – I do both whine and try to be an agent for change.  Just in case you are wondering.  I think we all so our share of complaining.  Is that whinny?  I think it sounds worse when you say whinny vs. complaining.  Another interesting thought!  I wonder why that is.

        Were you really whinny?  I doubt it.  I could be wrong I wasn’t there.  It’s nice that you learned something, but don’t forget there are times we need to champion change.  Those times some people will call you whinny.  Why?  Because they don’t like change.  You have to repeat your message sometimes more than the 3 times it takes for people to remember it!

        Hope to see more of your blogs!

        Michelle

        PS Try not to take it too much to heart.  It sounds like a personal attack.  Those are not really the ones to listen to.  Maybe take something small from it.  But try not to let it bother you too much.  I do the opposite than my advice of course.  It’s easier to say than do!

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        1. Tanya Duncan Post author
          I like that phrase ‘agent for change’. I think the difference is going beyond complaining and providing solutions to those issues. It’s turning your complaints into ideas and proposals.

          Thank you for leading me to that realization. I will certainly keep this idea in mind!
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  3. Mark Yolton
    Thank you for this blog; it was thoughtful and thought-provoking. As usual, the comments from experienced members of the community (Michelle and Graham in particular) are also quite good and add value.  Often, I’m enjoying the conversations on blog comments as much as the original blog itself. Thanks!
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    1. Tanya Duncan Post author
      Thank you Mark. I agree that active commentary adds significant value to blogs and I appreciate that this topic resonates with people and they are willing to share! 
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