As a Practitioner, Toastmaster, speaker, and leader of community organizations, I keep “putting myself out there.” This leaves me susceptible to feedback – it’s part of the territory. And feedback is tricky. I like to tell folks it’s one of the most difficult things for humans to give and receive. This article will focus on receiving feedback
since there is plenty of material available on how to throw it, but comparatively little on how to catch it. Also, I consider receiving feedback well – a good pre-requisite in giving it well. I decided to split this article into two posts to keep them both shorter. I thought this would be a fairly concise topic to write about; unexpectedly, it unpacked big. Here are my 5 first steps to receive feedback:
- Say Yes. Feedback is a gift – even if unsolicited and unwelcome. If someone asks, “Would you like some feedback?” jump at the chance; it could change your life and make you a better person. And, if you don’t do it for that reason, then remember what your Momma said: “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.” If you are fielding feedback, then you’re doing something right. Also, think about how hard it is to approach someone to tell them they have a speck of lettuce in their teeth. Honor that courage by saying “yes” to what they have to say.
- Grin and bear it. Make it easy for the person giving you feedback
to be honest with you. Look like you’re enjoying it, even if you have to put a pencil between your teeth to force a smile. Also, open up your posture and lean forward; no crossed legs or crossed arms. And, above all, maintain solid eye contact. Show that you are listening and you will get straighter and better goods. Some might say it’s not authentic to seem like you’re enjoying something when you are not. My take is that sometimes you have “to fake it until you make it.” You might not savour that moment but you likely will appreciate the learning that comes with it. It’s also courteous to make the conversation less awkward and as positive as possible for the feedback giver.
- Take it all in. Listen at maximum strength; as Stephen Covey said, first seek to understand. Don’t evaluate or filter the information (there will be time for that later); just listen and assume it’s correct and the sender is well-intentioned. If you are thinking too much, and not listening, you may lose valuable information.
Also, I like to write it down. First, because I don’t want to forget something important. Second, because I think taking notes validates the speaker. The tricky here is that if you are writing your feedback down, don’t let it distract from the conversation and try not to break eye contact, it’s tough talking to the top of someone’s head. Simultaneously taking notes and providing effective “listening” body language, as mentioned in Step 2 above, might be a “black belt” skill but worth developing. Someone once remarked on my ability to do this and now I think about this skill with pride.
- Say, “Thank you!” Feedback is a gift, see Step 1. The first words after “yes” in this conversation should be “thank you, thank you very much.” The full extent of what you are thankful for may come later; when you unwrap what they have given you. However, for now you don’t have to be specific. You are thanking them for the feedback itself, their thoughtfulness, and their courage in delivering it to you.
- “Drill it down with questions” After you’ve accepted the feedback,
and thanked the provider, you may wish to ask some clarifying questions to ensure you fully understand their thoughts and observations. There is a second reason. Having an inquisitive mindset helps you from being defensive. I was caught off guard with some feedback this week, and my first reaction was to think “I’m right and you’re wrong.” I think this is a common and natural reaction when we receive unexpected feedback. Luckily in this case, it came via a third-party because I was completely confident that I was doing my job and modelling expected behaviour. I found myself feeling indignant that I was challenged. However, when I had more information about the “giver’s” perspective, I was able to think differently about the situation. I still think I’m right, but not I’m not righteous and I’ve conceded that my certainly was more emotional than logical. Leading with a question helps diffuse the natural emotional reaction until emotional intelligence and self-awareness has a chance to kick in. I would suggest to not ask your drill-down questions during the feedback itself. Let the person speak uninterrupted, this may not be easy for them. Get it raw, get it all, then go back to get it clear.
In summary, the first 3 things you should say when receiving feedback are:
“Yes,” “Thank You,” and “Tell me more about that?”
- Do it with a smile and with your ears wide open and that is the gist of my 5 first steps. Next post, I’ll give you 5 more steps to consider. The reception of effective feedback is complex stuff.