The Art of Receiving Feedback

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” ~ Bill Gates

Receiving feedback with grace is a valuable leadership skill, yet many managers struggle with it. While we’re often quick to critique others, being on the receiving end involves an entirely different set of emotional and psychological skills.

I observe this often in the organizations where I consult. Leaders invite hearing from staff, but don’t always receive feedback in ways that are encouraging or fruitful.

Few leaders deny feedback’s benefits, but their openness to hearing and applying it may fall short. Accepting feedback is a best-practice skill that requires emotional intelligence, relational aptitude and humility. The benefits extend to everyone in the workplace and beyond.

Four fundamental concepts will help you manage professional feedback:

  1. Recognize feedback for what it actually is: information about yourself. It almost always involves someone’s assessment of you—fairly simple, yet not always fair.
  2. Three types of feedback, with differing purposes, potential benefits and pitfalls, are at play.
  3. Inherent tensions will affect how you feel during any feedback session (i.e., your need to excel, be accepted and be seen as worthy). Each of us has these emotional survival traits, which can cloud our emotions as we listen to criticism.
  4. Consequently, we experience resistance to feedback. Some of us brace for it, some fear it, and others try to prevent its delivery altogether.

Three Types of Feedback

Leadership consultants Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen describe three types of feedback conversations in Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well  (Penguin Books, 2014):

  1. Appreciatory

Benefits: uplifting, acknowledging, reassuring

Pitfalls: can be unspecific or unclear, can be patronizing or inconsistent with the leader’s or organization’s values (a means to an end)

  1. Instructive

Benefits: can teach and allow growth in skills, knowledge, capabilities or contribution to the organization

Pitfalls: can be misunderstood, misguided or self-serving (know-it-all)

  1. Evaluative

Benefits: can establish a standard and clarify expectations

Pitfalls: can be harsh, hurtful or unfair

I’d love to hear what goes on in your organization. Have you been invited to share feedback, only to have your message rejected or minimized? I can be reached via my website, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter.

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