What do these three examples have in common?
• A young woman was told by an instructor that her giggle during her presentation was cute, and fit her personality.
• A woman’s husband, after she asked him if her skirt was too short for an important business meeting, responded “No, your legs look great. Keep it short!”
• A young man was told by a colleague to chew gum to help him overcome his nervousness when presenting.
I believe the above business professionals all received feedback that was flawed.
It is important to receive feedback, because it helps us to grow. After 20 years of giving seminars, I still pay attention to the comments I receive from my participants. But how do you decide which suggestions really can help you to grow as a professional, and which ones to ignore? I suggest asking yourself these 6 questions:
1. Who is giving the feedback? Is the person an expert? If so, the feedback is a gift, and I would seriously consider following the person’s suggestions. If the person is not an expert, I would put the comments on the back burner. But remember, when customers make suggestions, it is a good idea to implement them where appropriate.
2. Do you perceive a pattern in the feedback you get? A solitary criticism or observation may be just one person’s opinion, but if you notice a lot of similar comments, chances are there is some truth to the feedback – positive or negative.
3. Have you learned as much as you can about the comment? Engage with the person giving the feedback. You can paraphrase what you have heard. Saying something like, “You’re suggesting that…” and putting the feedback into your own words will ensure that you have grasped the person’s points. The woman who was told it was okay to giggle could have asked, “Are you saying that it will be professional for me to giggle in the business world?” (The answer is no.)
4. Is the feedback emphasizing your sexuality? Workplace feedback should address your competency, not your sexuality. The woman’s husband in my example was flattering his wife, but not taking into consideration her corporate environment. He didn’t understand that “sexy is not a corporate look.” He’s not alone. Based on the attire of some newscasters, or the actors portraying professionals on television shows, it’s not surprising that many people come to believe that it is okay to dress provocatively in business situations. Occasionally, even some people writing about dress guidelines on the web fall into this trap. One blog post I read suggested that showing cleavage is the new “power tie” for women. (Yes, I am serious!) It isn’t.
5. Have you checked with other seasoned and successful professionals? The young man who was told to chew gum did check with another professional, who pointed out that the gum chewing would create another problem – his audience would be distracted. She then gave him other suggestions to overcome his nervousness, such as practicing out loud and telling yourself positive things. Additional suggestions can be found in my new book: The Essentials of Business Etiquette.
6. Have you done research on your own? Read books on the topic. Read articles on the web. The Internet makes it very easy to research any topic. Just make sure the authors of the articles are experts in whatever topic you are researching.
Pachter & Associates provides training and coaching on business etiquette, presentation skills and communication. For more information, contact Joyce Hoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 856.751.6141.