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  • Kim Meninger

Why Aligning Professional Feedback with Your Core Values Matters

Is there a way to integrate subjective feedback with your values?

Why Aligning Professional Feedback with Your Core Values Matters

In the 2019 Harvard Business Review article, The Feedback Fallacy, Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall argued that feedback is rarely helpful because the feedback giver's subjective views influence it so heavily.

Yet, while feedback is undoubtedly delivered through the lens of the feedback giver's values, experiences, and perspectives, dismissing it is not the only option.

Formal reviews and informal critiques are inevitable in most professional settings. When you empower yourself with strategies to identify the business objective behind the feedback, you can align it with your values and move toward success.

This is how a mismatch between feedback and values can leave you stuck.

Years ago, a strong sales leader I worked for pulled me aside and said, “Kim, I see you as an A player. I want to make you an A+ player. You need to be more of a bulldog.”

I vividly remember thinking, “Oh my goodness, I’m not a bulldog, I can’t do this.”

I wanted to be an A+ player. But I didn't know how to be a bulldog. I felt utterly discouraged. I'd always prided myself on being highly diplomatic and relationship-driven. And there was my boss, whom I respected, essentially telling me my values and communication style were not good enough.

I ended up moving to a different team where aggressiveness wasn’t required.

But looking back, I wish I’d handled things differently. If I had more fully understood where my boss's feedback was coming from, I could have figured out how to achieve the objective in a way that still felt good to me.

Instead, I left the interaction feeling like my options were either fail or find a way out.

When we get past the "what" of professional feedback, we can often uncover something more useful.

When we receive feedback, we hear the “what.” And, as research has proven, the

"what" is very much colored by the person giving the feedback.

To decide how to incorporate that feedback in a way that feels authentic to who you want to be, you must move beyond the “what” to understand the “why.”

As a leadership coach, I help many professionals—especially women and employees from underrepresented groups—process unhelpful style and personality feedback. When someone tells you you're "too quiet" or "too aggressive," it isn't actionable or respectful. Asking questions about the business objectives behind the input helps you understand the true intent, determine if it's legitimate, and decide what, if anything, to do with the suggestion.

By naming a value around the behavior, you can offer context for why you operate in a specific way. For example, you might say, “The reason I’m quiet in meetings is that I value listening and processing information before I speak.” Doing so will help the feedback giver understand and appreciate your style in a new way. It will also allow you to work together to find a path to the desired outcome in a better way.

Let's apply this response framework to my earlier career example.

In my case, the "what" was "be a bulldog." And the problem was that being a bulldog felt at odds with my values.

If I could go back in time, I would have sought more information to understand the "why" more fully. I could have asked, "I want to be an A+ player too and appreciate the feedback. What would being more of a bulldog enable me to accomplish that I'm not accomplishing now?"

If, for example, I had learned that my boss’s feedback stemmed from his wish for me to hold colleagues more accountable, we could have had a more productive conversation about the “how.”

I might have said, “As a professional, I really value diplomacy and being a bulldog doesn’t feel aligned with that value. I do think I can accomplish what you’re asking by setting clearer expectations at the start and following up more frequently when others don’t respond.”

I genuinely believe that my boss would have been receptive to this conversation and that together, we could have found a way to achieve the objective without compromising how I want to show up in the world.

There are so many benefits to getting beneath the surface of the feedback you receive.

The simple act of having this response and opening up this dialogue is powerful for your career success and the broader organizational culture. On an individual level, it demonstrates your commitment to authenticity, the fact that multiple styles and approaches are valuable and that you share their goals even if your methods differ.

On a broader level, your team and organization will benefit from diverse styles and strategies. With more proverbial tools in the toolkit, you'll all be able to achieve goals more effectively. You'll also help expand the definition of excellent leadership by demonstrating multiple ways to achieve the same objective.

Want to explore the idea of authenticity at work from a different angle? You’ll love my Imposter Syndrome Files podcast interview with Tricia Montalvo Timm, author of Embrace the Power of You, Owning Your Identity at Work.

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