receiving feedback

Become an Expert at Receiving Feedback

“You don’t have any initiative.” “You can never admit when you’re wrong.” “This seems like it was written by someone who has no idea how to write.” “I have major concerns about your leadership.” “You don’t know how to care for people.” “You seemed thoroughly unprepared.” “All you focus on are the obstacles.” “You’re a good speaker, but everything else you do is terrible.” “The meeting you just ran was completely unproductive.” “Your working here is hurting people.”

How’s that for critique? Those are just some of the things that family, friends, coworkers, organizational volunteers, and bosses have told me over the years. Some of it was constructive, some not so much. When I was younger, I ran from feedback. Well, that’s only partially true. I didn’t run from positive feedback, just the “opportunities for growth” feedback. There were times when I received comments that felt like I was getting hit in the stomach with a manhole cover. Sometimes I still do. Today, however, I am grateful and actively seek feedback. The better I have become at receiving feedback, the more I have grown and improved. If you are looking to take major steps in your relationships and career, improving how you respond when receiving feedback is a key component. Here are 5 tips on how to do it.

Assume There Are Things You Need to Work On

Other people offer a view of ourselves that we can’t see. We all have blind spots and we’ll never know what they are until someone tells us. We will continue to rub people the wrong way, step on toes, and not advance if we don’t know or choose to ignore them. Once I realized that, taking feedback became a lot more exhilarating.

Ask for Specific Things

Life should be a pursuit of learning, particularly about ourselves.Life should be a pursuit of learning, particularly about ourselves. I guarantee that the people around you know the things you need to work on. They are just keeping it to themselves.  Ask people around you to be specific. Sheila Heen coauthor with Douglas Stone of the book Thanks for the Feedback suggests asking, “What is one thing that I could do better?” Keeping it to one thing makes it more manageable and controls the feedback you get. Be ready though because when you ask for one thing, you’ll still probably get two to three.

Analyze the Feedback and Not The Person Giving It

Too many people dismiss true information about themselves because of the source or the timing. Anytime you receive feedback, it’s important to analyze honestly what is true and what is not. If you are like me, you can take tough feedback personally and feel knocked down. In response, I go to a friend who I know will tell me how awesome I am and not to listen to it. Heen says that, while that’s okay for helping the recovery process, I should also be asking that friend what parts are true. Now there are people in our lives who are toxic or ill-willed, who give criticism that will just bring us down. It’s appropriate and healthy to have boundaries on that feedback.

Don’t Dismiss Positive Feedback

It can be easy to focus on the negative and have only that replaying in our minds. Although it feels good to receive positive feedback, for some reason, I tend to dismiss it easily. It’s important when someone gives you positive feedback to measure it and let it sink in.

You Don’t Have to Take the Feedback

Listening, being open-minded and objective, and analyzing it doesn’t mean you have to take the feedback. You may decide that there isn’t enough truth to it. Ultimately, it is your decision whether or not you think it is valid. Just make sure that you go through the process and enlist the help of others in discerning the clear picture. The only difference between you and the person who has the relationships and the career they want could be that they have worked on taking feedback and growing from it.

Here is an insightful word about feedback from Sheila Heen, a founder of the Triad Consulting Group and a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School.

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What was the hardest thing I have ever said to you?”


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