There is lots of advice for leaders, managers and coaches on how to give better feedback. I’ve written and taught quite a bit about it myself. But today I want to write about something else.
Something that is discussed less often and is often misunderstood.
It’s a skill that when well practiced can help you build your skills faster, gain new perspectives and likely improve your relationships.
It is the skill of receiving feedback.
How is that a skill you might ask?
Well, think about yourself – or those you have given feedback to. Do you (or they) always seem open to the feedback? Do you (they) approach it with an opportunity mindset? Or are you (they) apprehensive, defensive or even angry?
While the advice below might not eliminate apprehension, defensiveness and anger, it certainly will improve the likelihood that you will do more than just hear feedback. You will learn from it and, when appropriate, apply it.
Note – While so far I have talked about you OR others, from now on this is personal. While you may be able to help others by teaching or sharing these strategies, start with yourself.
So, thinking about yourself, let’s get started:
Remember SARA. SARA is an acrostic that describes the four steps people sometimes go through when receiving feedback:
A further description of these steps would require another article. For our purposes now, you need to realize that you may go through these steps. When you know that, you can manage the steps, mitigate the anger (or at least not direct it inappropriately) and be patient with yourself.
Be open minded.
When someone offers you feedback, be it a formal or informal setting, keep an open mind. Recognize that however poorly it’s delivered, or however angry it makes you initially (remember SARA), remind yourself to keep an open mind. Without an open mind, none of the rest of these steps will make any difference at all.
Look for the lesson.
Perhaps you disagree with their premise. Perhaps their feedback is only their perspective, but it isn’t shared by the five other people that told you something different or even contrary. Regardless, make it your goal to always look for the golden nugget inside of the feedback. Even if it is well hidden, you can find the lesson.
Ask clarifying questions.
Perhaps the lesson is hidden, or perhaps their message isn’t clear. Rather than getting upset, choose to ask some questions. When you remain curious and ask questions to better understand their perspective and specific feedback, you will be much better off.
Ask for their advice.
Feedback is often given about past performance. You can’t change the past, but you can change the future. At some point in the conversation ask them for their advice. Maybe something like:
- “What would you have done differently?”
- “What would you like me to do or suggest that I do next time?”
Questions like those are useful. However, asking doesn’t mean you have to take the advice, but having it is valuable. Sometimes even hearing the advice helps you better understand where the feedback itself is coming from.
Suspend judgment – depersonalize it.
Often people are defensive from the start of the conversation, or get that way as soon as they hear something negative. Even if comments are framed as a personal attack, you can choose to suspend judgment and apply the other ideas on the list. Admittedly, this is a close corollary to the advice to “be open minded;” however, the barrier that is caused specifically by defensiveness is often tough to overcome.
Say thank you.
Most of the time the intention when giving you feedback is pure – the person really just wants to help. While there may be sometimes when you don’t feel their intention is pure, it doesn’t matter. Always say thank you. Being truly grateful will help you process the feedback – and – it will bolster your relationship with the other person as well. Your parents were right – say thank you.
Your first reaction may be to share these suggestions with others, and if you wish to do that, great! But don’t do that without first recognizing the learning opportunity for yourself in this list. Give yourself some feedback – ask yourself which of these suggestions you could employ more effectively when you receive feedback.
Always remember that how you respond to any feedback is completely in your control. Take that control if you want to gain more value from any feedback you receive.