‘How to give feedback’ is one of Zoomly’s most popular workshops – but what about being on the receiving end?
Most of us can feel pretty squeamish at the idea of someone giving us feedback, but we need to understand that feedback is a two-way street. If we expect to give others feedback we need to accept it ourselves, regardless of experience, job title or place in the organisational hierarchy.
1. Be open to feedback
How others experience us will vary from one person to another – it’s an interaction. How others see us will often differ from our own view. Blocking feedback from other people will limit our self-awareness and keep it one-dimensional – and very biased. We need to maintain an open mind when someone offers feedback: at worst, it’s their opinion and they’re entitled to it, as well as to fair hearing; at best, we will emerge wiser for receiving the feedback and better equipped to improve.
2. Get clear on the behaviour that’s prompted the feedback
Your feedback giver may not have sufficiently developed their skills to give you clear and actionable feedback. For example, they may say, “You were confident”, or, “You were aggressive” – both ‘confident’ and ‘aggressive’ are adjectives and both are the giver’s subjective inferences drawn from some behaviour or other on your part. An impartial observer may disagree that you were ‘confident’ or ‘aggressive’ – and so might you. Where there is far less likely to be disagreement is the actual behaviour, which means verbs, not adjectives.
So if your feedback giver offers feedback that’s full of adjectives, politely ask what it was you said and did that gave them that impression. Repeat the questions – gently – if necessary to get clarity. If the feedback giver simply can’t get beyond adjectives, ask them to point out to you the next time you are ‘confident’ or ‘aggressive’ and to notice the behaviour that prompted them to form that impression.
3. Ask for feedback on a specific point
This is something I picked up at my co-coaching group, where we work in trios of coach / coachee / observer. When it’s our turn to be coach, we are encouraged to ask the observer for feedback on a very specific point. This really helps the giver focus on a particular area, rather than being general in their feedback. What results is always very valuable.
You might want to try this next time you do a presentation, or negotiate, or run a team meeting for example. You can ask your presentation feedback giver(s) to pay attention to how you make eye contact, use body language, or vary your voice. In negotiation, you may ask for feedback on how well you listen to the other party (rather than ‘reloading’ or evidently forming your next statement whilst they’re talking) and reflect back to check you’ve identified what’s really at stake for them. Or if it’s a team meeting, how you get participation from all team members, encourage the less talkative to contribute, or ensure the meeting runs to time are examples of what you can ask colleagues to give feedback on.
You can also ask for feedback if you’ve been working on a development point that was originally raised by… feedback, to check you’re making progress.
4. Thank the giver of feedback
When feedback is given well, it really is a gift – which benefits the recipient more than the giver. Acknowledge this when someone gives you feedback. Acknowledge too that giving feedback may have been daunting for this person – whether they’re very inexperienced or just wary about your reaction. Thank them for their feedback.