We Can Give Feedback, But Do We Know How to Receive it?

Feedback is a gift!

Seeing Feedback as a Gift!

What’s it like for you in any of these situations:

  • A close relative or friend gives you some critical comments on what you’re wearing
  • Your in-laws give you parenting tips as your toddler has another bout of tantrums in a public place
  • Your child rolls their eyes when you embarrass them in front of their friends

Now ask yourself why you react the way you do. Why don’t you accept the feedback in these circumstances? I suggest it might be for a number of reasons, such as:

  • You don’t agree with the feedback – you think blue and green are perfectly good colours to wear together
  • You don’t understand the feedback – you didn’t read the book or watch the documentary they are basing their advice on
  • You don’t trust their viewpoint – what do they know about fashion, wearing that ridiculous tie?
  • You don’t think they understand – after all, they haven’t asked me why I did what I did
  • You doubt you can do anything about it – that’s who I am. I don’t want to change and even if I did, I don’t think I can change!

Hold those thoughts. Now let’s move this on to a work context…

At the start of leadership programmes, I often ask people what they find challenging as managers. One of the most often stated difficulties is giving feedback to others – particularly when there is a perceived problem that needs to be addressed.

I then ask participants how they like to receive feedback. They invariably come up with a good list of factors that help. The say the feedback should be:

  • Specific – describe the situation, the action that was taken and the impact of that action, so we understand it
  • Non-judgemental – ‘the document was late’ is preferred to ‘you are slow’
  • Timely – it clearly doesn’t work at an annual performance review to raise an incident in a meeting 8 months ago
  • Given in manageable chunks – if you find yourself saying ‘And the 92nd thing is…’ you know you are going too far
  • Balanced – don’t just mention the bad stuff. If there were some positive aspects regarding performance, be fair and mention those as well

At this stage, I realise that traditional feedback training isn’t hitting the spot. Those attending training courses know what works and what doesn’t when giving feedback. But little improvement is being made back in the office…

Then I discovered Sheila Heen doing a TED Talk on YouTube (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQNbaKkYk_Q).  She and her colleagues have diagnosed what the problem really is… to improve feedback inside organisations (and in life) the focus should be more on equipping the receiver. It’s the receiver who is in charge. We decide what to take in.

And we all have a strong tendency to scan the feedback to see what’s wrong with it! Otherwise we have to live with it, niggling away in the back of our mind.

The truth is we all have blind spots. There are things our mums and best friends know about us that we don’t know about ourselves. Some of these things might not be good to hear. But they are true.

So what can we do about it? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Decide you want to know about your blind spots – to learn more about yourself so you can become a better person
  2. Get yourself a little black book and write down the feedback you receive and any reflections you make about your performance
  3. When you get a quiet moment, read the content of your little black book and reflect on whether there is a pattern of comments
  4. Consider getting yourself a mentor or coach to help you make sense of the feedback and develop a personal plan for performance improvement
  5. Every time you get some feedback, either well delivered or clumsily delivered, try to receive it as a gift!

Hope you found this article a gift!



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