“Can I give you some feedback?”
Rarely do we meet an offer like this with eagerness, curiosity or excitement. Our reaction might be more aligned with concern, skepticism or even fear.
However, feedback is essential in all aspects of our lives. We need others to shine a light on our blind spots so we can grow and develop, just as much as we need to be open to learning and improving.
Not all feedback is difficult. Your boss might mention that they can see the improvements you’ve been making. Your direct report might praise your empathy and listening skills. Your spouse might tell you the new twist on your meatball recipe is working. Most of us do just fine with that kind of input.
But it’s the tough stuff that takes center-stage when it comes to feedback. The observations that deflate us, that leave us worried or anxious, that feel like an attack on our character or our abilities.
In these situations, it’s easy to blame the messenger—but it’s on us to build up our toolkit for how we receive feedback. That’s what makes it constructive.
So, how do we deal with the tension of wanting to learn and grow, while protecting our own emotions in the process? How do we take in this information and make it useful and relevant?
Here are a few ideas:
1. Go get it
Actively seek feedback from those you trust. Have a specific, go-to question like, “What’s one thing I can do to make your work/life easier?” or “What’s one thing I can start (or stop) doing?”
Remember, this person might not be fully prepared to answer. Explain why you want the feedback, then give them time to think and respond when ready.
2. Cultivate a growth mindset
Studies show, those who see their identity as ever-evolving typically handle feedback more fruitfully.
Cultivate a growth mindset by embracing your areas of improvement and using feedback to enhance them.
3. Stop, collaborate and listen
Resist the need to respond or retort. Listening, asking questions and inviting an open dialogue does not mean you agree with the feedback. It simply provides a route to understanding.
Start by restating the feedback, “What I’m hearing is that you think I can be too aggressive in our client sales meetings. Is that right?” Then you can clarify it from there.
4. Find the nugget of truth
Early in my role at Decker, my boss shared some negative feedback from a colleague. She admitted that it felt a little off, but it was still important to explore even if we weren’t sure where it was coming from.
Make an effort to take feedback that might feel misplaced and look for the root of what might be behind it. You don’t have to agree with the feedback, but there’s usually some nugget of truth in there. It’s worth putting in the work to uncover.
5. Take action (and credit)
Once you find the truth (or truths), don’t just sit around on them. Figure out how you can put that new knowledge into practice.
Tell others what you’re working on and implementing as well. Some things take time, and teamwork to shift. Bring others in on the journey.
By reframing feedback as an opportunity, rather than an obligation or impediment, we can start to use the information we receive as a catalyst for growth. Start trying out the tips above and see where it takes you.
P.S. Plenty of feedback was given in the writing of this blog post.