We give a lot of attention to how to provide feedback to other people. We give less attention to how we should receive the feedback to help us improve. The following are six guiding principles that can help us receive feedback given to us. You can apply these principles to most situations in which you receive feedback.
- Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to accept and act on feedback by sharing with others.
- Don’t take it personally, make it useful.
- Keep in mind your current responsibilities and career objectives as you consider what feedback matters most.
- Pay attention to what stands out, surprises you, or is different from what you expected and why.
- The feedback can tell you as much about your respondents as it does about yourself.
- Find strengths that you can build on.
We will address each of these points in more detail.
1. Use this as an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to accept and act on feedback by sharing with others.
Which individual would you most prefer to work with?
- A person who says they will change something but doesn’t.
- A person who says they won’t change but then does.
- A person who says they will change and does.
For most of us, the first person would start out with our appreciation and end up with less respect. The second person would initially be frustrating, but we would be glad they made the change. The third person would be most appreciated, because they not only made a change, but also did what they said they would do.
As you receive professional feedback, share that feedback with somebody else, such as a manager or trusted peer. Don’t just share the feedback but share your thoughts and plans for acting on it. This may include the decision not to take specific actions, but they will see your reasoning as to why not. Do find something you can and will act on. You will then improve, and others will see the improvements you are making and gain confidence in your ability to learn and grow.
2. Don’t take it personally, make it useful.
“You’re amazing!” or “You’re an idiot!” One of these statements makes you feel good and one hurts. In general, you want to work with people who are more inclined to share the positive than the negative, but you want to manage both. Hopefully, you work in an environment of professionalism where calling names is not the norm. Even better if you and the people you work with are more inclined to build each other up.
Regardless of whether the feedback is positive or negative, don’t take it personally. Let positive feedback boost your confidence but not make you arrogant. Let negative feedback give you pause but not paralyze you. Our brains are wired to focus on the negative points and want to move into a fight or flight mode. Take a moment to breathe and consider whether there is merit to the negative feedback. Whether or not there is, it becomes an opportunity to better understand the feedback provider, which will be further discussed in point #5 below.
3. Keep in mind your current responsibilities and career objectives as you consider what feedback matters most.
When we debrief 360 results for an individual or engagement survey results for an organization, we often have to remind them: “Here is what we are seeing and what the data seem to show. Now you have the more complete context of your life or organization and need to bring that to bear on results for better insight.” There may be something that looks more urgent based on the data than what the context would suggest, or given your goals and objectives, addressing certain points might have a greater benefit. Remember, you get to decide what you ultimately want to focus on.
4. Pay attention to what stands out, surprises you, or is different from what you expected and why.
People generally have a sense of what their feedback will look like. They might say, “I know I will get high scores from my manager and low scores from my direct reports, because I have to push my direct reports really hard to get the results needed to move up in this company.” Regardless, it is likely that something in the feedback will be different from what you expected. That doesn’t mean it is good or bad, but it does represent a disconnect between your perception and others’. You may be surprised at how positive the feedback was. This can be a great opportunity to close the gap in your behavior, whether that’s leaning into a strength or modifying a weakness.
5. The feedback can tell you as much about your respondents as it does about yourself.
My daughter has noticed that I often comment about dishes piling up in the kitchen sink and how the dishwasher is loaded, but I don’t typically say much about the kitchen floor being swept—unless it really needs it. This may have more to do with what I value in terms of kitchen tidiness than in the quality of the floor sweeping or dish cleaning. Also, I normally unload the dishwasher, thus, whether or not it is loaded and how it is loaded directly impacts me.
Likewise, there might be aspects of your work that are of particular importance to your manager, which may cause her to be more “critical” or discerning in that area when providing feedback. On the flip side, high marks in another aspect of your work could mean that it is a strength for you or that you simply meet the needs and expectations of those providing feedback.
6. Find strengths that you can build on.
As mentioned previously, our brains are wired to focus on perceived threats. Humans generally are wired to focus on the negative feedback and move into fight or flight mode, in which your vision narrows and your ability to think clearly decreases. However, we recommend that as you approach feedback look for strengths you can leverage to be more effective at what you do. You are more likely to be more effective recognizing and leveraging strengths, taking a skill from good to great than from trying to move a skill from poor to good.
Again, these points are most applicable to professional feedback, especially in 360 form; however, they have applicability to some degree or another with most feedback that we receive. Regardless of the context, use these principles to help you demonstrate that you have a learning mindset and are open to growth as you accept and act on the feedback others give.