Better RFP Responses & Management
Handling Harsh Feedback

Handling Harsh Feedback

As always, Seth has a succinct explanation, this time for harsh feedback.

It often comes from one of two kinds of people:

    • People who give themselves feedback in the same heartless tone.
    • Folks who honestly believe that their work is flawless.

As someone who has suffered through harsh feedback from Red TeamsAnd given my share? — I think Seth is onto something here, although in practical terms it might not help much. While there’s always hope for people to learn not to be harsh with themselves, the personal insight and growth required are usually outside the scope of Proposal Land management. And there’s nothing we can do about people who think their own work is flawless.

But his closing comment is even more interesting.

When in doubt, look for the fear.

Fear of what?

  • Fear of losing the business.
  • Fear of winning the business and losing money.
  • Fear of looking bad to a boss.
  • Fear of others thinking that the work you do under schedule pressure is the best you can do.
  • Fear of you thinking that the work you do under schedule pressure is the best you can do.

If you look for the fear in others — if you can understand or even predict it — it opens up new possibilities.

For one, expecting harsh feedback makes it easier to take. OK, sort of.

For another, understanding the fear might allow you to address its drivers:

  • You might take more care with presentation quality.
  • You might interview executives ahead of time or in quiet times to get their preferences and priorities and concerns.
  • You might add a proactive, pre-emptive risk briefing.
  • You might explicitly address a problem from earlier proposals and show how you’ve fixed it this time.
  • You might find a way to push status information so that people who are responsible for the outcome but who lack direct management control can track your progress without having to ask.

If you look for the fear in yourself, you can translate that insight into the personal growth needed to overcome it.

And less harshness in the world is a good thing, yes?




  1. Jim Taylor

    I grew up on Batman comics, where all conflicts were settled with a massive roundhouse punch that flattened the opposition. That image still haunts, occasionally. It’s taken me this long to recognize that winning an argument is not the same thing as resolving it. Seth’s advice is good — look for what the other side fears. If you/I can ease those fears, the conflict may evaporate, and collaboration can begin.

    Unfortunately, it’s less easy to identify and dispel my own fears. Even though I know, rationally, that it’s my own fears that lead me to look for that roundhouse uppercut.

    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim T – Yeah, life is not a debate (nor a Batman comic). But it can be hard to put energy into understanding anyone’s fears when we’re convinced we’re right.

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