We All Love Getting Feedback – As Long As It’s Positive

Feedback has always been a hot topic in business. Few disagree that it’s an essential skill set for achieving and sustaining a high performance workplace culture. In another blog post here, we explore the current debate that’s recently escalated around the pros and cons of “radical transparency” and it’s impact on how we need to learn how to give feedback more effectively.

On the other side of knowing how to give feedback, however, is knowing how to receive it.

Anyone who’s ever gotten negative feedback about themselves –that’s every one who’s reading this – knows how challenging it can be to process and make good use of it.

“Constructive” feedback and our dreaded “blind spot”

It’s hard for most to get perspective about our skills and performance and to close the gap between our conscious and unconscious effect on others. To know when our impact isn’t matching our intention for the people around us, so we can learn more about ourselves and be and do better.

Though most of us enter into “constructive” feedback conversations with mixed emotions at best. We fear the shock of uncovering for the first time our so-called “blind spots,” even though we also hope the experience will help us.

But it’s hard for many of us to believe in things we can’t see ourselves, especially if we think we’ve been doing a good job or it doesn’t fit with the story we’re telling ourselves. And it’s equally hard for the feedback giver to share their experience of us without judging us trying to fix us.

Peter Bregman in his HBR article does a great job of listing and describing the kind of reactions we can have when we get feedback that threatens the way we see ourselves – what he calls “a clear sign that your ego is getting in the way of an important learning” – including how we can threaten, attack, play victim, take pride, minimize, deny, deflect, invalidate, or make a joke. In short, it can be challenging to self-manage any emotional reactions we may have.

A lot more has been shared by many about how to receive feedback. Of course much of the challenge fades in the rare case of being in the presence of our feedback giver knowing how to give us feedback. As we describe in our other post, this means they give it to us in a nonjudgmental way that doesn’t try to fix us. Instead the feedback giver knows how to open up a space for us to learn and feel empowered.

Our #1 Tip: Coach Your Feedback Giver

When you’re on the receiving end of a feedback conversation, learn how to coach your manager on their experience of your performance.

As we emphasize in our blog post here about how to give feedback, focus on excellence. If your manager or team member,or spouse points out something that you’re doing right, ask them to pause and describe their reaction to you as specifically as possible:

Them: “Good job!”
You: “Which part of it? What did you see or feel or hear that worked so well for you?”

This isn’t about getting your feedback giver to “pile on the praise” with you. It’s about helping your giver make “what’s unconscious, conscious” to you.

The same strategy applies to when you screw up. You need to know it, and hopefully your manager steps in to share and help you improve. All too often, however, this doesn’t happen when and how you need them to, especially when their feedback isn’t positive. Knowing what you did wrong isn’t as self-motivating for you as knowing when you do an excellent job, but you can still coach your way to getting more value from your giver’s lack of skill in delivering more “negatively” slanted feedback.

Our #2 Tip: Pay Attention to Your Words

It’s a steep learning curve for most people in becoming skillful in the use of the language that reflects this “coaching” mindset. Here are some examples to practice using:

  • Use the word “I” more than the word “you.” Speak from a place of your experience, not from a place of judgment of the other. We say to clients as they practice being skillful, “in your mind’s eye as you speak, keep your finger pointed at yourself, not the other person.”
  • Listen more than you talk, and ask for behaviorally-based specifics – Tell me more, what else, give me an example
  • Summarize and reflect back what you hear to check alignment on mutual understanding – Let me make sure’ ve heard you…
  • Keep it future-focused – What do I already know I need to do, going forward?
  • Focus on what and how, not why – What are some actions I can take right now? How can this be done differently?
  • Clarify your giver’s intention/objective/outcome – What do you want to happen next time?

Other Essential Tips

  • Assume the giver has good intentions and is sharing what’s “true” from their side
  • Come to clear agreement about any new action needed going forward
  • Say thank you
  • Apologize for any defensiveness or blaming that may have occurred during the conversation

The low-hanging fruit of leading with feedback

When receiving feedback, take co-responsibility for feedback conversations. Coach your feedback giver to give you specific, behaviorally-based situational examples – of both your excellence and what’s not working — and help them keep the focus on new behavior and actions that you can take moving forward. Raising the bar on candor and transparency in the workplace is one of the best no-cost, immediate, and high impact leadership behaviors when it’s got skillfulness and intention behind it that aims to help the other(s) contribute more of their uniqueness, skills, and potential.