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Every day you receive feedback. Sometimes it gets saved up for a month, a quarter or a year and is delivered in the form of a performance review. Other time it arrives in a 360 degree report commissioned as part of a management development program. Whatever way it comes, it can be useful in helping you improve as an employee and a manager. How much value you get from receiving feedback is entirely up to you.
When receiving feedback people go through three stages – sometimes in the moment and sometimes over an extended period of time:
Being aware of these stages, and intentional about your behaviour, will help you get the most from the feedback you receive.
We often react to receiving feedback instantly and with emotion. It’s tied to our fight or flight instinct. No matter how sensitively feedback is provided, it feels like we are being attacked. We’ve carefully built up an image of ourselves and how we relate to the world. Suddenly someone is trying to tear it down!
Our instinct is to avoid this challenge by rejecting the feedback or by arguing about its validity. Tears or angry words may accompany our response. We’re human and it’s hard to control our emotions. The important thing is to be aware of your response so you are able to receive value from the feedback and avoid damaging your relationship with the person(s) providing it. Remaining in control is always the best policy.
After your heart has had its turn, it’s time for your mind to process the information contained in the feedback. This may occur in the moment for immediate feedback or later after careful consideration following a performance review. Your objective should be to review the facts, understand the source and assess the veracity of the feedback, keeping an open mind about the whole thing.
Recognize that sharing feedback can be emotional for both the provider and the recipient. To gain clarity, a great technique is to write down what you think you heard. Compare this to any written report you may have received or, if you feel up to it, share it with the feedback provider for confirmation.
Find balance. Put the feedback in context of your broader behaviour, accomplishments and situation. The provider of feedback may not know all the facts but their perspective is their truth and the implications of their perspective are important. Consider whether it might just be possible that you don’t know all the facts or have a blind spot to something in your own behaviour that is creating unexpected impressions among those around you.
What’s the feedback really telling you about the issue and about the relationship with the provider(s) of the feedback? Although it may not feel like it, most feedback comes from a place of caring. People generally aren’t trying to throw you under the bus or bring you down, particularly when the feedback forms part of a formal evaluation process. For the most part, the people around you actually care about you and want you to improve, either to avoid failure or make progress. Sure, they may benefit from your progress too but that doesn’t diminish the good intent of the feedback.
Ultimately, you have to decide, in the moment or after further thought, whether you will accept the feedback and act upon it.
Our actions at this stage determine whether we get any positive benefit from the “gift” of feedback we’ve been provided. The way you respond really determines how much perceived and actual value you derive from receiving feedback. Unavoidably, you will be judged on both the “how” and the “what” of your response to receiving feedback.
There are two parts to a useful response to feedback: i) acknowledgement, and ii) action planning. Acknowledgement, whether in the moment or after careful consideration, demonstrates to the feedback provider that you’ve heard their input, accept it, appreciate it and will use it to guide your future action. It preserves or strengthens your relationship with the feedback provider and buys you time to decide your next steps.
The process of accepting feedback raises your perception in the eyes of the feedback provider(s). You are showing that you care about improving and, importantly, that you care about their perspective. Obviously you need to be genuine, and true to yourself, in the degree of acknowledgement but don’t skip this step. It doesn’t take a lot of work to provide verbal or written acknowledgement but it certainly buys a lot of goodwill.
The really tough part is deciding which bits of feedback you intend to act on and what specific actions you will take. You may choose to ignore certain elements of feedback because they are inconsistent with your personal objectives or the return on effort will be low.
There is actually a school of thought that says you’re better off building on your strengths (presumably revealed by positive feedback you’ve received) than worry about trying to get marginally better at something you’ll never really be very good at. That’s provided that your weakness isn’t a fatal fault that could derail your career or relationships entirely.
So, pick your spots, develop a concrete action plan and communicate it to those who provided feedback. You’ll continue to build goodwill and, let’s face it, there’s nothing like committing publicly to an objective to motivate action. Finally, don’t be afraid to refer to your efforts along the way – you’ll gain respect if, when you catch yourself backsliding, you good-humouredly acknowledge your slip-up and your continued intent to improve.
This is all a lot to think about in the heat of the moment when you’re processing feedback. If you can remember the “three Rs”: react (control your emotions), reflect (understand the feedback) and respond (communicate and take action), then you’re on the right path.
If you’re an advisor or mentor, sharing this framework with your recipient can help them benefit from the experience. After all, that’s what we all want, isn’t it?