By: Alisha Sedor
Feedback is a gift. We should learn from our mistakes. Missteps should be examined for how we can improve. Etc. Etc. Etc. It's well established that we need to give and get feedback in order to be more high-performing, to drive projects to success, and to become better all around humans. But what people don't talk about is that feedback is effing hard. It's EXTREMELY hard to give well, and, I would argue, equally difficult to receive in a productive way. There has been a lot said about giving feedback effectively, Radical Candor is one of my favorites, and today I'd like to share some thoughts on receiving feedback. Because, most of the time, it's not very fun.
Let's start with why it's hard. I get sweaty and little panicky when I know feedback is coming, even though I want to know how I’m doing and how to be better. There are several scenarios that make receiving constructive feedback difficult:
- For many of us, we want to be perfect - we strive not to disappoint others, to impress our superiors, and to do right by our organizations. In our minds, getting feedback means we did it "wrong,"
- Fearing failure or looking bad is similar with a slightly different flavor. Maybe we're not as concerned with perfection but getting constructive feedback means we've been noticed, and not in a "good" way.
- For me, a big part of why feedback is hard is because I put so much of my sense of self into my work. I work hard and pursue many different avenues that reflect the different aspects of my personality. In that, feedback on my work feels personal (whether it is or it isn't).
- Imperfect delivery is also quite common - constructive feedback can come across as harsh, personal (rather than about the work), be delivered at an inappropriate time, etc. That can make one much less receptive to the feedback itself.
- If feedback isn't delivered well, it can also be difficult to know how to correct. Without a clear directive, that feedback might just feel frustrating instead of productive.
- There are a host of other reasons why feedback is hard to receive - leave your own in the comments!
Ok, so we know being on the receiving end of constructive feedback is hard. (Hopefully less so for positive feedback - if you're having trouble with that, give me a call. We should talk about owning your strengths and taking compliments.) We also know that feedback is essential to improving. What can we do to be better at receiving feedback?
While by no means comprehensive, here are some ways to start:
- Be open and control defensiveness - people are more likely to return with feedback to help improve your work if you’re approachable for feedback. Remember, we want feedback, right? It's hard for folks to continue to deliver it if you don't seem open to it.
- Confirm the takeaway or action item and use open questions to get clarity.
- What should you be doing to act on this? How will you know if you've improved?
- Consider the feedback, and then decide what you want to do with it.
- Look, not all feedback is good feedback. Some of it's pure opinion. It's ultimately up to you to decide if you want to act on it.
- Caveat: if it’s from your manager, there might be more of a mandate. So get clear on whether acting on that feedback is necessary for your to progress in your career, or if it was a critique that was more personal preference/opinion.
- Was the PERCEPTION of your action different than your INTENT? If so, what can you do to make your intent more clear in future, similar interactions?
- Acknowledge it’s hard for the other person to give you feedback - everything that makes giving feedback difficult for you, the other person likely experiences too.
- Who is the other person giving the feedback? What motivates them? What’s their perspective? This can help you understand the takeaway of the feedback.
Last, if an intense or contentious feedback session isn't going well, don't be afraid to acknowledge that. Remember that this is just work and not about you as a person. Attend to emotions in the conversation - if it's hard, say it's hard. If you're upset, ask the other party if you can pause and come back to the discussion after you've had some time to process. Use playback in both directions to make sure everyone is on the same page. Most importantly: playback and then document key points and action items. If the feedback was tough, it's likely to be misinterpreted. By documenting and sharing with the other party, you can make sure everyone is clear on next steps.
Receiving constructive feedback may never be easy breezy, but if we make it easier and more effective, it only serves us to get better, faster. Feedback is for you, your growth, and your success.