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What Feedback Should You Ignore?

What Feedback Should You Ignore?

By Sallie Krawcheck, Ellevate Network Chair

Some tried-and-true advice in business: ask for feedback. Particularly ask for feedback if you’re working in a job or on a skill that’s newer for you. And more particularly, ask for feedback if you’re a woman in business.

But all feedback is not created equal. Some of it’s off-target, and some of it’s just wrong.

How do you cut through it? The best advice I’ve been given:

Listen to the critics. Ignore the cynics.

The cynics: the Greek chorus of negativity. The snarkers who are gonna snark. They’re the ones who always have something at-least-slightly negative to say, sometimes wrapped in a “Hey, only trying to help” package. They lean back in their chairs with arms folded.

For me, it was the senior guy who used to shake his head and sigh loudly and dramatically when I would speak at the morning meeting as a junior analyst (but refused my request to tell me how I could improve).

It’s the people who are telling me that my team is going to fail in launching Ellevest, a digital investment platform for women. Though, of course, they really, really hope we’re successful, but that we’ll fail because others have failed. Or because it’s not doable. Or because women don’t want to invest. Or because women just won’t invest. Or because women need more “hand-holding” to invest. Or because women are a “niche market.” Or because we should really be addressing the gender pay gap first. And did they mention that others have failed?

The critics: These folks are as good as gold. They provide feedback because they care. You may not love hearing what they have to say, but it comes from a good place.

It was the senior analyst who told me, early on, that my presentation style was ineffective, and why. Boy, did that hurt. And boy, did that help.

It’s the group of our Ellevate Network chapter leaders who came into our offices this past Friday. They gave up the better part of their day, to spend four hours with us to provide no-holds-barred, detailed feedback on how we’re running the business. This covered how we’re managing events to how we’re communicating with them to how we’re prioritizing our investments. Some of it stung. Some of it really stung.

About three hours in, I asked the team why they were involved in Ellevate Network. The woman who was the toughest on us was the most passionate in her answer: she had joined the Network when she was considering a career transition. She had been in a division in which she was the only woman. The relationships she had formed in the Network, and the knowledge that came with those, enabled her to make the transition to entrepreneur. She will be launching her new product at an Ellevate event right before the holidays. So Ellevate Network has meant a lot to her.

Thus, her feedback – which was the toughest we got – was also the most valuable we got. Because it came from such a great place. She cared. No sitting back with her arms folded; she was fully engaged.

But what if you can’t tell the cynics and the critics apart (and sometimes it can be hard)? Having a group of individuals you can trust – ideally, a “personal board of directors” – whom you can run feedback by, is also invaluable. Asking them for the straight scoop or a quick sanity check can help navigate what can be some pretty emotional territory.

When we give feedback to others: it’s worth asking ourselves what our motivation is. Is it to help them succeed? Or is it something else? Are you a critic, or are you a cynic?

This piece originally appeared on LinkedIn

(Photo: Found Animals Foundation, Flickr)

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