Few words are feared as much as “I have some feedback for you.” Our doubts about ourselves come to the surface quickly as others point out even small needs to change. And, some of the more arrogant people can also be some of the most brittle when it comes to feedback.
As leaders, we cannot have the luxury of ignoring feedback. When we ignore feedback we send a message to everyone on our team that it is OK to avoid.
Here are five steps to help you benefit from feedback.
Redefine your definition of feedback. You may be like most leaders who publicly proclaim the benefits of feedback yet truly fear it. When you receive feedback, it violates a deeply held belief about who you believe you are. That is why it is so painful.
You hear the feedback and you say to yourself: “I have been doing it wrong (Maybe I am a failure).” “I have to change (This means more work. I am already overwhelmed).” “I have to do something I am not good at (maybe I will fail).” “Maybe I am not better than others (I thought I was superior or at least special).”
Underlying all of these responses is a central question: Am I good enough? Whether you are a Fortune 500 CEO or a new leader of a start up, the question affects how you respond to feedback. When you come to terms with the idea that you are “good enough” but you are on a journey to become more “complete,” you have freedom to benefit from all feedback.
Listen for patterns of feedback: If you are lucky, you get a chance to hear feedback from coworkers, bosses, customers, clients, friends, children, and a spouse. Even though they may never be bold enough to say, “Here is some feedback,” they are all trying to give you clues. If you listen closely, you will discover a pattern of information that they all want you to hear.
However, if you aren’t getting clear enough information from their hints, ask your stakeholders what you need to hear. Ask them if they see any patterns that might inhibit your success.
Understand your response to feedback: When you receive feedback, you have many options in the ways you behave. You can choose from a variety of not so effective responses:
The Martyr (Oh, I am not good. There is no hope for me. I can’t change), The Attacker (Who are you to tell me what to do. You can’t possibly understand my situation), The Withdrawer (I just won’t say anything and I will hide in my corner), Interrogator (Well what exactly do you mean? Do you have all the facts? How long have you seen this? How do you know it true?), The Explainer (Well the reason I am justified to do it that way is…). The Ignorer (This doesn’t apply to me.)
Using any of these responses once will reduce feedback. However, using them frequently is a sure path to derailing your career.
An alternative and more effective approach to responding to feedback is “The Learner.” In this approach, you seek to understand just exactly what the person is meaning. You aren’t seeking to judge the messenger or the words. You simply start with making sure you understand. You ask yourself, “What is the meaning beyond the words?” “Why would someone care enough to risk giving me this feedback?”
Make no excuses: You will be tempted to explain your behavior. After all, there is a legitimate reason for your actions and if others understood those reasons they would let you off the hook. Think again. Most any reason you provide will be interpreted as an excuse. That’s right. An excuse. Avoid the temptation to give reasons and just say “Thank you.”
Act on feedback: You create trust when you act on feedback. You also set an example for your team to receive feedback. In a few situations, you will not be able to act on the feedback. When this happens, come back to the person in a day later and let them know what you can do or why you need to delay your actions. Closing the loop will build credibility.
The inability to use feedback is the fast track to failure. Some of the most talented leaders have derailed their careers because they dismissed or fought feedback. Remember, in most cases, people give you feedback because they want you to succeed. So, the next time someone says, “I have some feedback for you,” consider how lucky you are to have people really care about you.