How To Receive Feedback The Right Way

So what feedback do you have for me?“, I asked.

Megan* was the EVP heading our SBU. She was my boss’ manager and we were on our way to the airport after completing a strategic review. The meeting had gone fairly well and she had publicly appreciated the team for their excellent work.

To be honest, I think you are getting in the way. I think your team is very bright and know this place better than you do, but I sense that you are trying too hard to add value” Megan replied.

It was shocking!  Because I knew that was certainly not true! But, I knew better than to defend myself. Internally I felt very misunderstood and wronged, so I spent the rest of that journey making polite conversation. So I failed to utilise the opportunity to seek clarification and ask her for suggestions!

Many of us feel that we are comfortable receiving feedback; in fact, a study by Zenger and Folkman [1] suggests that we have a preference for receiving negative feedback – as it helps us understand our areas for growth. Personally, from my own experience and from my work with several leaders, I know that we tend to over-estimate our ability to handle criticism.

Criticism? Unfortunately, you will find that a majority of your stakeholders haven’t learnt the difference between criticism and corrective feedback. They  haven’t learnt how to frame and deliver feedback appropriately. Many of them are very uncomfortable delivering negative feedback

However, you know how important feedback is for your  learning and development. Therefore,  it is for you to learn –  how to get the feedback you want, as well as how to receive it appropriately.

The following are some of the tips that have worked for me and for clients that I work with:

Ask for feedback. End every meeting with your team, every one-on-one with your team members, boss and key stakeholders with the question : Could you please give me some feedback?

Develop a thick skin. Not everyone is skilled at giving feedback – so accept that sometimes people may offer criticism couched as feedback. They may make assumptions about your beliefs, attitudes and intent – rather than focus on your behaviours. You may find that they are not comfortable, don’t trust you enough or don’t care enough to give you the input you need. They are likely to be focussed on their own agenda and self interest rather than yours

Help people give you the feedback you need. This might require you to be more specific about the area in which you require feedback. Lead them to be more specific about the skills or behaviours that they think you should work on. Ask how your behaviour (or lack of skill) is impacting them and/or the organisation

Ask for suggestions. Ask how you might do things differently in the future (change a behaviour, acquire a new skill), but don’t push it if they don’t seem to have any suggestions

Always thank people for providing feedback. Thank them and avoid defending or rationalising your behaviour. This is a sure way of telling others you do not value their feedback. If you think (or even know!) that they are wrong, this is not the time to talk about it. Just thank them for their input, and promise to think over it and get back to them.

Always get back to the people who have given you feedback. Tell them you have thought through what they have said. Inform them about the actions you have decided to take or not take. This is very important, even if you have decided not to take any action. If appropriate, and you are comfortable sharing why you have decided not to work on their suggestion, mention it. Even if you choose not to discuss why you are not taking action, it still sends the message that you value their input and have taken time to think through it.

Be Sensitive. On rare occasions, when offering you feedback, people may not be able to manage their emotions and may express themselves angrily or sarcastically or burst in to tears. Be sensitive. This tells you that whatever they are dealing with is impacting them very much. So, hear them out. It may very well turn out that it has nothing to do with you; the topic or something in the discussion might have triggered it. Even if you are unable to do anything – your empathy will help them regain their composure. And it will help you understand and connect better with your stakeholder.

Do you have any tips or ideas on how to become better at receiving feedback?



Reference: Zenger, Jack and Folkman, Joseph; The Assumptions That Make Giving Tough Feedback Even Tougher; (accessed 26 May 2016)

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Narayan Kamath

I'm a Leadership Coach and Mentor. I help successful leaders take their leadership to the next level. My mission is to make positive and significant impact in the lives of at least 100,000 people by 2020 - by helping them unleash their true potential to achieve greater success and fulfilment - at work, and in life.

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