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Karin’s Leadership Articles

5 Indications the Feedback is Not About You

by | Mar 4, 2013 | Authenticity & Transparency, By Karin Hurt |

Have you ever received frustrating feedback? Have you ever wanted to shout, “are you freaking serious?” “Have you looked at the impact YOU are making?” “I don’t want to roll like you.”

How do you know if the feedback is frustrating because it’s wrong or because it’s exposing a sensitive blind spot. What if it comes from your boss? It’s VERY TRICKY.

There’s usually a degree of truth worth exploring.

Start With Thank You

I always start with, “thank you.” And then decide. It never does any good to get defensive. You do not want to develop a reputation as “not being able to take feedback” (a sure way to take yourself off the succession planning “grid.”)

Here’s a line I’ve used (albeit VERY sparingly).

“I’ve heard you, I’ve thought about it for 3 weeks. I’ve gathered some additional feedback and although I appreciate your perspective, this is why I can’t change this behavior and why.”

I’ve also had a direct report say something like the above to me. I deeply respect that choice (warning not everyone will and had it been a different guy, in a different circumstance not sure how I would have reacted).

Be sure you’ve thought well. Some feedback that ticked me off early in my career turned out to be 79.6% correct

Of course, every now and then, feedback is not about you but about them.

How do you know?

“It’s Not About You” Feedback Indicators

  1. The feedback-giver is insecure and uncomfortable (warning, there could still be stuff to learn)
  2. The feedback is inconsistent with all other sources (ahh, but perhaps they have a different perspective)
  3. You have other signs that they don’t have your best interest at heart (are you sure?)
  4. You aren’t in the right job, but they are trying to mold you in (oops, this is about you, but the feedback will feel wrong find a more aligned job)
  5. Okay, the guy’s just a jerk (sometimes that’s true)
  6. ? What would you add?

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Eric Dingler (@EricDingler)

    If the feedback is giving out of anger. (The concern is really the goal, not you the person)

    Feelings are indicators of problems with goals.

    Anger : A blocked gaol
    Anxiety: An uncertain goal
    Depression: An unrealistic goal

  2. letsgrowleaders

    Eric, what a great way to think abou this. I am working on a related post on “mads” (anger). Very helpful, as always.

  3. Bonnie Mann, CPA (@bonniemann)

    What you are getting is not really feedback but feels that way. We recently changed some procedures to allow increased accountability. There was no current “problem” that we were trying to solve, we were trying to set up an early warning system for the future. However, some of the people subjected to these new procedures saw them as a signal about their own performance (in spite of multiple discussions telling them it wasn’t).

    • letsgrowleaders

      Bonnie, thank you so much for adding to the conversation. What an interesting example you are wrestling with… I’m reminded of the song lyrics, “you probably think this song is about you.” I am curious, how are you managing those important conversations?

  4. arianaf1981

    This is a timely post for me as I’m working on the second of the Four Agreements, “Don’t take anything personally!” To a certain degree, all our interactions with other’s are encapsulated by their feelings, fears and desires. In which case, it’s never about you!

    I find one way to differentiate is be determining if you’re receiving constructive feedback. Will the insights actually help you to grow and make progress towards your goal? Or is the giver manipulating you for their own personal gain? Knowing your end goal is critical for ascertaining the value of the feedback.

    I actually wrote a blog post titled “3 Steps to Perfecting the Art of Giving Constructive Feedback” – I’m curious if anyone finds the ideas presented there useful in exploring this topic further. http://www.rosabellaconsulting.com/blog/3-steps-to-perfecting-the-art-of-giving-constructive-feedback/

    • letsgrowleaders

      Ariana, I am so glad that you added your link to the discussion. I always welcome that. You raise important insights… and what a fun graphic 😉

  5. Bob

    Great post as usual!

    My personal experience has been that feedback was too generic and too “soft”. I’m personally over-critical of myself, which may lead to that kind of feedback?

    How do I know if feedback is about me?

    Does it sting? Then I meditate on it. Maybe meditate is a strong word. Deep reflection is probably better. I really try to let my guard down and think about what the person is saying. Could it possibly be true? As you said, there is most likely at least some truth in it. It usually takes me several days to really get to that point.

  6. letsgrowleaders

    Bob, thanks so much for commenting. You always expand the conversation. Hmmm… can we invite “soft feedback?” I’ll “meditate” on that one too. “Could it possibly be true?” That’s just a great question.

  7. Jesse Stoner

    Great post, Karin. Someone once said to me, “If someone say you have spinach on your teeth, you might want to rub your tooth. If you hear it again, it’s time to look in the mirror.”

    • letsgrowleaders

      Jesse, Thanks so much for adding that. That’s a great line…!


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