Receiving feedback can be tough, but it’s critical to grow personally and professionally. How can you improve if you don’t know what to improve upon? Unfortunately, many people get defensive and make excuses when they get feedback. Reacting in this manner shuts down any curiosity about the perspective being shared and is a missed opportunity to grow as a person, better understand your impact on others, and improve in your job and relationships. Plus, handling it poorly increases the chance that you won’t get honest feedback in the future. This may sound ideal but it’s not. I can guarantee that people have feedback for you….they just don’t want to tell you. I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t want people telling me what they think I want to hear but feeling something different.
My goal is to be a fantastic manager and an inspiring leader and the only way to do that is by getting feedback, both good and bad. It’s very important to me that people feel comfortable telling me the hard stuff. To achieve that, I’ve had to develop feedback-taking skills. Here are some of my tips…
Just Say Thank You
The first thing I say when I am receiving feedback is, “Thank you. I really appreciate you sharing this with me.” This does two things. First, it puts the person who is giving me constructive criticism a little more at ease. It is never easy to give feedback and I can bet with high certainty that whomever is giving the feedback is nervous about my reaction. Second, it gives me time to process before haphazardly blurting out something that could make the situation go south. The key here is to listen actively and refrain from building your case as to why the person is wrong.
Ask Clarifying Questions
Because there is so much room for miss-interpretation in stressful conversations, asking good questions allows me to make sure I have a deep understanding of what is being shared (please read my blog here on how to improve your questioning skills). It also helps me pull more information out of the conversation. Because it’s nerve-wracking to give feedback, some people talk circles around the real issue or sugar coat it to make it easier to swallow. It’s a shame to walk away with something left unsaid, mixed messages, and an unclear path forward. Consider your tone when asking questions; you should be inquisitive and open not defensive or sarcastic.
Don’t Make Excuses
Depending on the feedback, it may be appropriate to explain myself. For example, further clarification may be required if someone misunderstood what you were trying to say therefore an explanation is helpful. But many times, giving an explanation can sound more like an excuse. There is a fine line between explanation, justification, and excuse making. Tread carefully here…sometimes it’s best to just say thank you and incorporate the feedback into your work or life without offering justification for your actions or behaviors. Interjecting with excuses is a sure-fire way to be labeled as unaccountable.
Ask for Time to Process
If I feel myself getting defensive and I can’t get it under control with a few deep breaths, I say, “this is a lot for me to process right now. May I have a bit of time to think about what you are saying and come back later to talk through it?” Most people need time to process feedback and it’s completely reasonable to ask for space to think. Plus, taking some time to ponder the feedback can help you assess its validity. Just make sure you set a time to circle back. You don’t want to blow off the person brave enough to share constructive criticism. Have an open mind and heart and resist the urge to defend yourself.
After receiving feedback, I try to be hyper-mindful of exhibiting these behaviors. There are always opportunities to stop doing or start doing the critiqued conduct. For example, if you were told you interrupt people, pay close attention to yourself when conversing with others. Notice when you find yourself wanting to interject…how do you feel and why do you want to add your $0.02? Were you able to stop yourself? If not, did you take accountability for interrupting and apologize? Being mindful and making in-the-moment course corrections are great ways to improve.
I work hard at being coachable, approachable and at taking feedback with grace. It’s not always easy and I certainly have screwed up my share of conversations because I let myself get defensive. But I’ve gotten better at it because I’m committed to growth and development as a person and leader. Just like any skill, you have to practice to get better at it. Looking back over the constructive criticism I’ve received, I am incredibly grateful for the people who have cared enough to share it with me. Each time, they have offered me a golden opportunity to take steps towards becoming the person I want to be. To all of you, I say, “Thank you for the feedback.”
Thanks for reading! As always, I welcome comments and appreciate likes and shares.