by Paul Matthews

Receiving feedback

Feedback is high value information. Receiving feedback is an extremely important business skill, necessary for your own personal growth, learning and development. If you are unable to take feedback on board, chances are you will not progress as quickly as you might like.

Why do we resist?

Why do so many of us resist taking full advantage of feedback when it can provide such enormous benefits?

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Probably the main reason is that a good part of our self image is based on how we think others see us. When we find out that someone sees us in a less than positive light, we may feel devastated.

Another is that people tend to like to hear what is consistent with their world view and resist ideas to the contrary. It takes an open mind to listen to an opposing view that, in effect, says we are wrong.

Positive intention

One of the most important things about receiving feedback is to understand that the person giving it is, in most cases, not out to harm you. They have a positive intention and they want to help. Unfortunately, not everyone is good at giving feedback in a way that comes across as helpful, so try to start from this basic assumption until proven wrong: the person means to help, not harm.

Good feedback is an offer of information, not a diagnosis of your character or potential. Feedback does not need any defence from you. One trick you can use when being given feedback is to imagine that it is being deposited in a mailbox; this mailbox is outside you and you can collect the mail later. In effect, disconnect emotionally from the feedback while it is being given.

In receiving feedback, there are a number of things that you can do to help:

  • Listen carefully to what the person has to stay
  • Ask questions that clarify the issue for you
  • If you hear a label – for example, weak, hostile, creative – ask what was observed that led to that conclusion
  • If none are offered, ask for suggestions
  • Separate the information in the feedback from the way it is given
  • React appropriately (use the STOP model)
  • Behave in a non-defensive manner (don’t give reasons or explanations; instead, note, question and check your understanding)
  • Seek out further feedback from others to corroborate
  • Thank the provider of the feedback – they have helped you to learn and progress
  • Use positive body language, such as nodding, smiling, leaning forward, facing the person and not crossing your arms or legs, to show that you are open to the feedback
  • Don’t jump to conclusions, automatically assuming that the person is ‘wrong’ or ‘unfair’
  • Don’t generalise the message beyond what is said. Take the information at face value.

If you receive feedback poorly, people will stop giving you any. You cannot grow in the feedback desert.

Receiving corrective feedback can be difficult or awkward for a number of reasons. You may have the urge to rationalise your behaviour to try to get rid of the uncomfortable feeling. You may feel that you are less worthy, since the other person thinks there is room for improvement. Or you may have had bad experiences in the past where feedback was provided in the form of criticism and was not constructive.

Decide later

There are essentially three stages when receiving feedback:

  1. Awareness
  2. Assessment
  3. Action.

Remember that you don’t have to decide or commit to do anything with the feedback when you are receiving it. You have the right to go away and think about it, and this is the best course of action. Feedback is information for you to use – it is not an obligation to change.

Treat it like a gift that you take home and look at later. Once you have it back at home, you can decide what to do with it; this can be anything from throwing it in the trash to putting it in pride of place on your mantelpiece.

You will consider things such as

  • How do you rate the credibility of the giver?
  • Is there corroborative evidence?
  • Is the feedback about you, or is the giver just having a bad day?
  • If you think the giver is wrong, why do they think that they are right?
  • Are you in denial?
  • Is this just a difference of opinion on how to do something?
  • How does it fit with other feedback you have received?
  • Does this form part of a pattern that needs attention?
  • How will changing (or not) affect your relationship with the giver or others?
  • Does this suggested change scare you and, if so, why?
  • What different options are there to fulfil the request to change?
  • How does this change impact on your sense of self?
  • What are the consequences of changing (or not)?

And then, it’s up to you what you do. See the Coaching Yourself topic for more ideas on how to make the most of feedback and handle the inevitable inner critic. You may also want to look at the topic on Assertiveness.

A man who trims himself to suit everybody will soon whittle himself away.

Charles M Schwab