I gave you my five keys to giving effective feedback effectively, now let’s learn how to receive it. The feedback we receive isn’t always clear, fair, or makes sense. The thing with feedback is it’s through the eyes of the observer. How we perceive people is about us not about them. The lens through which we evaluate a person is based almost entirely on our belief system. Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in his book Blink. I consistently cite this book when I talk about perceptions of others because it eloquently explains why we do it and how we can work around how our subconscious mind colors people and events. This is also important to understand when delivering feedback.
In the five keys to giving effective feedback effectively I talked about how to make sure the feedback you are giving is received well, understood and actionable. Unfortunately, that is not how we will always receive feedback. We need to be open to feedback in any form, but shape it into something we can act on.
1. Listen With Objectivity
The first point of receiving feedback is to quietly listen to the feedback. If you’re talking at the same time they are you can’t understand what the person is saying. Back to the woods. In the exercise where we had to lead teams in the completion of a task we had very specific ways of giving feedback – “what worked for me. what didn’t work for me. what I would like to see done differently.”. While this feedback was delivered to the leader, the leader was not allowed to speak, at all. There could be no interruption. If the leader interrupted the person observing the team quickly corrected them. The leader’s only job was to listen. This part isn’t too difficult for me. I’m a listener. I much rather listen than speak. And in a world that much rather speak than listen I can find myself overwhelmed, but mostly frustrated when it is finally my turn to speak – no one listens. While you are listening to the feedback, be present and focus on the words and the body language of the speaker. Do not start preparing your counter or explanation. You may ask clarifying questions only after the person has finished speaking. They must be clarifying questions, not objections in the form of a question; i.e. “would you rather I had turn the report in late?” is a thinly veiled objection. What do you do when the person is done?
2. Thank Them For Their Feedback
In the woods once we received feedback we could only say “thank you for the feedback.” That was it. No explanation, no I’m sorry, no objection. Simply, thank you. This allows the deliverer to feel heard while the recipient considers the feedback, even if you agree. Feedback is a gift. Hopefully the person delivered it as a gift versus using it as a weapon. Since we’re not in the woods you can leave it there or you can add a little something to the thank you to help you understand and incorporate the feedback.
3. Ask Truly Clarifying Questions
Let’s say the feedback is vague and unclear. You really have no idea what you did well or poorly. It’s not clear what behaviors you should repeat or discontinue. This is where you ask clarifying questions. It can go something like “When you said turn the report in on time my interpretation is that you meant on the day it was due. From what I’m hearing you say on time for you meant the day before so you could review it? Is that correct? How would you like for me to handle that in the future?”. This technique helps them define exactly what worked for them, didn’t work and what they would like to see in the future. Be objective and unemotional about it. This can be difficult if the feedback to you was delivered in an emotional way. I don’t do well with emotional feedback if the emotion doesn’t seem to match the topic. Meaning if a person is highly emotional about the report being delivered on the day it was due instead of the day prior I can’t match up the intensity with the crime. This leads me to believe the person is actually upset about something else or they don’t know how to properly express themselves. In this case, I may not want to ask clarifying questions for fear of making the situation worse. But you must, so carry on. Gauge the best way to do so.
4. Consider The Feedback
There’s a reason the person gave you the feedback. It could be that it was a violation of their belief structure, values and virtues. It could be that they truly have your best interest at heart and want to see you do well. Or it could be what you’re doing is going to get you fired or stall your career. Either way, consider the feedback. If you don’t have the time or capacity to truly consider it in that moment simply say you’ll consider it. You would like a little time to replay everything in your mind and see where that feedback fits. If the feedback really doesn’t work for you or is a violation of your belief system you can respectfully push back because you feel they don’t have a good understanding of your perspective; or say nothing and simply don’t implement the suggestions. Do this with the understanding that some feedback may be non-negotiable for the deliverer and there may be consequences for not implementing the feedback. What if you feel the feedback is not coming from a place of good intent? Sometimes we get feedback from someone just because they don’t like us. The answer is the same. Consider it, no need to push back against it. But if this feedback is for work performance, you may want to consider documenting it if you feel strongly the feedback is not in your best interest.
5. Ask To Provide Your Point Of View
People like to feel heard. If the feedback you received feels like it’s coming from a place of mis-perception, ask to provide your rationale or side of the story. Hopefully the person would have provided you an opportunity to express yourself. But if not, thank them for the feedback, say you’ll consider it, then ask if it would be okay to walk them through your rationale. You may have had a very good reason for whatever you did and perception is reality in the absence of fact. Once you’re able to explain how you got there it may actually change the feedback or the perception of the situation. Feedback really should be a dialogue, this structure isn’t meant to remove that dialogue. It’s meant to provide some structure and ground rules so that the discussion is effective. Both people should walk away feeling heard, understood, and respected. However, that doesn’t mean both people agree on the feedback itself.
About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action. Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.