Receiving Feedback

Is it easy for you to receive feedback, especially if it seems negative or improvement oriented? It is not easy for me either.  In fact, I don’t know too many people who accept advice easily and without emotion.  In a practical article by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone called “Finding the Coaching in Criticism—The Right Way to Receive Feedback” (Harvard Business Review, January, 2014) the authors suggest:

  • Know Your Tendencies: There are usually patterns in how we react to feedback because we’ve been receiving it all of our live.  Do you defend yourself based on facts, argue about the comments, strike back, smile but seethe on the inside, simply wait until you can give your own response, get dejected, etc.?
    • Anticipate your tendencies and work through or around them.
  • Disentangle the “What” From the “Who”: If you work in a team-oriented environment, then open communication and giving staff “voice” will be critical to optimum team functioning.  It also means that, from time to time, you may hear feedback from the youngest team member or someone you’d rather not hear from.
    • React to the message, not the messenger. If the feedback is on target and the advice is wise, it shouldn’t matter who delivers it.
  • Try to See It As Coaching: Some feedback is evaluative (“your score is a 3”) and some is coaching (“here’s how you can improve”) and everyone needs both.  Evaluations tell you where you stand (approximately), and what is expected of you; coaching allows you to learn and improve and helps you play at a higher level.
    • Emotional triggers are lower when constructive comments are viewed as coaching.
  • Unpack the Feedback: It is not always immediately clear whether feedback is valid and useful.  Before rejecting it, do some analysis to understand it better.
    • When you set aside snap judgments and take time to explore where feedback is coming from and how it’s intended, you can enter into a rich, informative conversation about best practices.
  • Ask for Feedback: Feedback is less likely to set off emotional triggers if you request it.  Get bite-sized pieces of coaching throughout the year.
    • “Do you have any feedback for me?” is too broad and open ended. “What is one thing you’ve seen me doing that I need to work on?” is more productive.
  • Engage in Small Experiments: When someone gives you feedback, test it out.  If it works great; if it doesn’t, you can try again, refine your approach, or ask for continuing feedback.
    • Remember, criticism is never easy to take, even when you trust the person delivering it.So, experimentation is a way to validate the feedback.

Your growth depends on your ability to pull value from criticism in spite of natural responses, and your willingness to seek out more advice and coaching from bosses, peers and subordinates.  They may be good or bad at providing it, or they may have little time for it, but you are the most important factor in your own development.  If you’re determined to learn from valid feedback you get, you’ll continue to grow and learn new skills.