Women Supporting Women: Advice to Women – Be Empowered by Feedback

06 OCT 2017

Sally Boyle, international head of Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs, shares her advice to women on being empowered by feedback, as part of our Women Supporting Women blog series.

In my conversations with women inside and outside the firm, the topic of feedback certainly elicits different views – they either see value in it, dread it…or a bit of both!  Love it or hate it, timely and constructive feedback is crucial to career growth – and as women we need to approach giving and receiving feedback in the right way.

I remember my first annual review conversation at Goldman Sachs. Coming from a law firm, where little feedback was given, I was not prepared for the rather tough experience of hearing about my strengths but more importantly, my weaknesses. I felt very defensive about the constructive feedback, justifying why I didn’t think that it was fair. My manager gently encouraged me to listen to the feedback and to address the areas for improvement. I realise now how significant that advice was – responding to constructive feedback over the years has aided my performance and potential.

At Goldman Sachs, we recognise that frequent, ongoing and specific feedback is a key ingredient to enabling our people to perform to their full potential. We have invested in new feedback practices, including the introduction of a tool that facilitates real-time feedback conversations. But what can we do as individuals to ensure that feedback empowers rather than deflates us?

Tip #1: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” – Proactively seek feedback

I find that  if you ask someone on the spot for some feedback, say after a meeting or presentation, you can get a rather glib answer – “oh, it was fine.” I prefer to be proactive and ask a participant before the meeting or presentation if they can provide feedback after. This increases the likelihood of receiving useful, actionable feedback. Try engaging colleagues in advance of a meeting or presentation and let them know that you are interested in hearing their feedback .  Tell them about a specific strength or development opportunity that you are looking to address so the feedback can be more focused. This has the added advantage of signalling to others that you own your development and that you value their opinion.

I remember when someone at Goldman Sachs first asked me to give feedback to them before a meeting – I was so impressed with their initiative, their self awareness and desire to develop their skills further.

Tip #2: “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn” – treat feedback like a gift.

Think of feedback as the corporate equivalent of someone letting you know you have a bit of salad stuck in between your teeth.  There is initial discomfort, but once that fades, we appreciate hearing it rather than noticing in the mirror after a key client meeting!
Feedback can sometimes be a little hard to hear and digest. Two bits of advice for women at every level:

  • Take solace in the fact that if the person didn’t care about your professional development or were not invested in your success, they would have kept their observations to themselves.
  • Whether you agree with the observations or not, perception is reality!  Something in your behaviour has driven that perception and if that is not what you intended, change the behaviour.  It’s difficult, but remember that feedback isn’t about who you are – depersonalising it makes it feedback easier to address.

Tip #3: “Manners maketh the (wo)man” – a “thank you” goes a long way.

Giving feedback takes a degree of courage. Hesitancy to give feedback often stems from concerns about how it might be received and the impact it could have on a working relationship.

We can only benefit from feedback if we put ourselves in a position to get as much of it as possible. So, acknowledge the time that someone takes when they share their observations.  Being known as someone who receives feedback with good grace can only be a positive thing.  It could also lead to new mentoring or sponsorship relationships.

I firmly believe that receiving ongoing feedback has contributed to my own professional development. It has enabled me to hone my skills, direct my efforts and energy; increase my impact and ultimately accelerate my performance.  I consider it an obligation to share my feedback with others, knowing that people cannot develop without awareness of their behaviour – good or bad.  This is essential to everyone’s career success and also a great way for women to support other women.

My message to women: approach feedback as an empowering, informative step in our career development. Embrace it.


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