I have clients that quote back to me, with a smile, that “feedback is a gift.” I firmly believe this. Unless we know how others perceive us, how we’re doing in their eyes, we lessen our ability to be effective with them. To get from them what we need. To get them to do what we want. To simply make it more enjoyable to work (or live) with them. So over the years I have consolidated tips around getting, and hearing, feedback to the top five most essential points.
- Feedback is the start of a conversation – even with a formal 360° feedback processes, the feedback, or the 60-page report containing the feedback, is just the beginning. Feedback is a wonderful starting place for a conversation that needs to happen. A chance to sit down with someone(s) and ask, “Why might someone see it like that?” “How does it appear to you?” “How am I being perceived?” Feedback can be a safe way to talk about issues, or behaviors, that are difficult to broach.
- Feedback is both personal and impersonal – what can make feedback so difficult is that we take it so personally. It is essential to remember that feedback you receive is not necessarily “Truth.” It is simply someone’s truth. It is truth as they see it, but no matter how tough the feedback may be, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an awful person. It means that, from someone else’s viewpoint, there are things about you that could be different, or better. That can take the sting out of it.
- Make sure you understand – have you ever gone off the wall about something, only to find that you were reacting to a point that someone didn’t mean, or didn’t make? Me too. It is essential that you truly understand not just what the feedback says, but what the sharer of feedback meant. And that you understand it as specifically as possible, that you understand not just their perception and interpretation of what you’ve done, but exactly what you’ve done that they’ve (mis)interpreted. I always caution my clients, whether giving or receiving feedback, that effective feedback is a behavior, an action verb, not a judgment. “You’re too aggressive,” is not useful feedback. “You interrupt in meetings and raise your voice,” is clear behavior-based. If you don’t understand what someone means by their feedback, or what specific behaviors they’re referencing, ask them.
- If you know they’re “wrong” don’t respond – while I always tell my clients to thank people who’ve shared feedback with them and to follow up to gather more clarity and to share next steps, if you absolutely know that someone is “wrong” in their perception, your best move is no move. Until and unless you can open your mind to the possibility that somewhere in what you’ve heard there might be an inkling of truth, or at least a shade of possibility, forget my point number one and consider the feedback the end of the conversation. If you can’t hear what someone is saying to you, you shouldn’t try talking with them further.
- Admit the hardest stuff – sometimes what hurts most about feedback is that people’s perception of us is not only different from how we see ourselves, it is different from our intentions. We would never intend to hurt someone. We would never try to manipulate. We would never refuse to hear someone out. And yet this may be the experience others have of us. At this point I counsel my clients to come clean – even if, or especially if, they would never intentionally do the thing they’ve been accused of. To stand in front of a room (or a person) and announce that you’ve been called manipulative and it is your absolute intention to change that perception because you would never knowingly attempt to manipulate – that shows openness, appreciation for the feedback, self-awareness, and desire to connect effectively with others.
Used effectively, feedback truly can be a gift.