Updated: Jun 21, 2019
How good are you at receiving feedback?
And is it easier for you to receive positive feedback than negative - or is it harder?
Last week’s blog covered how to give effective feedback (Part 1 of my Feedback Series).
This week we look at the other side - how to make the most of the feedback you’re given.
Again, there are three areas to this:
what to say (in response)
how to handle your emotions
In Part 1, I discussed the importance of location to giving effective feedback. This is also true for being able to receive feedback well - and you do have a choice.
If you are uncomfortable with the location that’s being suggested, ask to change it.
If you’d rather do it in a more public place (eg a coffee shop) rather than an enclosed meeting room, ask.
Explain that you are very grateful for their time and effort in giving you feedback, and you want to make sure you receive it in the best way possible - so would they mind if you met in x, as you find that environment really helpful for these types of discussions.
They can only say no - and if they are trying to give you feedback in a constructive way, they are likely to say yes.
Some feedback is at defined intervals, eg annual performance appraisals or regular meetings with your boss.
However, you have the opportunity to ask for feedback in between these fixed moments.
You can explicitly ask for feedback after an event (eg a presentation or important meeting), or on a particular piece of work, if none has been forthcoming.
This type of immediate, issue-based feedback can be some of the most helpful.
Some questions you could ask:
how could I have done a better job on X?
is there anything you think I could have added, to make it even better?
how well did you think I handled that situation?
do you have any tips for me for the future?
do you have any suggestions on how I could improve X?
is there anything more I could be doing to help you/us get X results?
2. How To Handle Your Emotions
Avoid becoming defensive or emotional
The biggest challenge to handling feedback well is to avoid becoming defensive or emotional. This does not help!
In fact, it will make the situation much worse, leading to a tense and difficult conversation and discouraging the feedback giver to do so again in the future (to your detriment).
The problem is, our brain perceives criticism as threat, which triggers our fight-or-flight response, so we are very likely to respond emotionally.
To avoid this, take a deep breath, and focus on your feet being grounded on the floor to help take you out of your head.
Avoid placing yourself in the victim position by considering the other person’s point of view: say to yourself “this is not easy for them; they are trying to help me".
And suspend judgement about whether the feedback is “right” or “wrong”.
Your aim during the session is to make sure you understand exactly what the feedback is about, and what improvement is being recommended. If you want to, you can always ask others for their perspective outside the room.
And if you are finding it all too much, ask for time to reflect.
Say that you are very grateful to the person for pointing this issue out to you, and what you’d find really helpful is if you could go away to think about it, then to come back for a further conversation.
It is much better to give yourself a break rather than spiral into an emotional meltdown…
Watch out for negativity bias
Not all feedback will be good - but similarly, not all feedback will be “bad”.
Watch out for negativity bias - the way the brain automatically focusses on the bad stuff, and ignores the good stuff.
This is evolutionary - the good stuff can’t hurt us…
But psychologically, ignoring the good stuff does do us harm, as it affects our self-worth and confidence.
So listen carefully to what is being said.
Make sure you write down the positive comments as well as the more negative ones during the discussion.
And at the end, summarise what you’ve heard - and mention the positive comments as well as the more negative ones.
Make sure your actions following the meeting include not just what you need to do differently, but what you need to do the same, or even more.
Building on our strengths is a fantastic way of helping us progress - in skill, in confidence, and in reputation.
3. What To Say
Make it a dialogue
Feedback is best as a two-way conversation, not a one-way lecture. Part of the responsibility for this lies with you.
So first, employ active listening:
really focus on what is being said
make eye contact
use engaged body language
and reflect back to the feedback giver what you’ve heard: “so, what I’m hearing is that in this situation I did x, and it would have been better if I did y, for z reasons”.
This will help make sure you are completely clear on what you are doing well, what needs to improve, and exactly how you are engaging with the person giving the feedback. This will help them feel positive about the experience and be more likely to do it again in the future
It will also give you time to process what you are being told, avoiding a knee-jerk defensive reaction.
Ask if there are other times that they’ve noticed this.
Ask what you could have done differently (if it’s not already clear).
And ask what the purpose of changing your behaviour as they suggest might be - probe the feedback you’ve been given (in a calm and thoughtful, not defensive or challenging way!
Say thank you
Giving feedback can be difficult, but is very useful to you!
So make sure you express your appreciation to the person giving you the feedback.
You want to encourage them to do it again…
Receiving POSITIVE feedback
The above recommendations apply whether the feedback is positive or negative.
However, receiving positive feedback has its own particular challenges.
It is very “un-English” to respond well to positive feedback - it feels like boasting, or brings up phrases like “pride comes before a fall”.
To help with this, it’s worth thinking about why positive feedback is useful to you (beyond just being nice to hear):
it helps you understand and focus on your strengths, and build on them for even greater success
when you receive positive feedback, you release dopamine in the brain. This not only makes you feel good, but evidence suggests it can also support innovative thinking and problem-solving - making you better at your job
if you are praised for learning a new skill, your long-term memory function is enhanced, so you are more likely to remember the thing you were praised for. So praise helps you learn skills more easily
thanks to mirror neurons, our feelings are influenced by the feelings of the person we are with (and vice versa) - ie positivity is shared. So don’t undermine the moment, or you will be affective the feedback giver negatively too. Instead, enjoy the good feelings, enjoy that you are enabling the person you are with to feel them too - and the positive ramifications of having the feedback giver feel good when they are with you).
So before you receive any feedback, review all the objective reasons why it is helpful for you to receive positive feedback (and to receive it well).
It isn't a selfish or arrogant thing to do - it is helpful not only to you and your progress, but also your team (who benefit from you being better at your job). And if you deflect it, you are denying the feedback giver their positive feelings.
Then when you are in the room, avoid deflecting any compliment (oh, it was nothing; I could have done so much better).
Instead say THANK YOU!
Don’t forget to ask a follow-up question here too - it will help make sure you completely understand the feedback, but also help your brain take it in.
Finally, there are some more long-term actions you can take outside the specific feedback situation, to help you respond well to feedback generally.
These hinge on developing a “growth mindset” - if you believe you can get better results at something, you are more likely to put the effort in, which leads to better results.
This is a huge, and important topic, so that will be covered in Part 3 of this Feedback series, next week!
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this - let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. And look out for Part 3 on the Growth Mindset next week!
p.s. don't forget you can read Part 1 on how to GIVE effective feedback here.
p.p.s. and if you'd like to work with me, I'm launching £99 Power Hour sessions in July - focussed one hour sessions on pre-interview coaching, stress management, defining your career goals, or how to leverage your network. Contact me at email@example.com for more details!