The Gift of Feedback
What if I were to tell you that getting feedback is a great way to achieve your goals? You’d probably tell me I’m full of it. Feedback is just something I have to get through so people will leave me alone.
Seriously, feedback can be a great gift. It’s a window into what you don’t know about yourself that’s impossible to learn any other way. It gives you a clue about how you come across to others.
As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Picture this: You’re meeting with your team, trying to solve the problem du jour. In your mind, you’re rising above it all, staying rational and calm while others panic. Others may see the same behavior as smug and condescending. If you’re not open to their feedback, you’ll never have a clue how you’re coming across in those moments. You won’t have the choice to change your behavior.
Most importantly, feedback is a powerful tool to get better at what matters to you, whether it’s bringing in new clients, facilitating workshops, or doing finish woodworking.
Face it, self study only goes so far. You can learn a lot by watching You Tube videos. However, there’s nothing like someone letting you know you fidget when you speak and fill your sentences with so many “ums” and “you knows” that it’s hard to follow your thread. For that information, you need feedback.
But We Don’t Always Take it as a Gift
Unfortunately, it’s hard to remember that feedback is a gift. As I’ve written previously, feedback is an invitation to change and change is threatening even if it’s aiming toward something you want to get better at.
What happens when you feel threatened? Personally, I have two modes: to defend or justify myself or discredit the person offering the feedback.
Defensiveness and Justification: We all know defensiveness in its most obvious form: crossed arms, fingers in the ears, the smokescreen of words that communicates, “Go away, leave me alone.” Justification is trickier to recognize. There may be legitimate reasons for our behavior. But both defensiveness and justification are forms of self protection and, as such, get in the way of being able to really hear what the other person is saying.
Discrediting the Other: Another reaction to feeling threatened is the attitude, “the best defense is a good offense.” Instead of defending ourselves, we discredit the other person. Do any of these sound familiar?
“They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“They don’t offer feedback very skillfully, how could I possibly take in what they have to say?”
“They don’t understand how hard it is.”
“They have it in for me.”
Both of these tendencies--defend or discredit--are common reactions to feedback but they get in the way of being able to use feedback to achieve your goals.
How to Use Feedback to Achieve Your Goals
Here’s how to use feedback in the most constructive way possible:
Adopt a growth mindset…If you think of yourself as “fixed,” you are more likely to view feedback as an attack. Having the mindset that “I’ll never be able to do finish woodwork, I’m not a detail person” makes it hard to take in the feedback that could help you grow. Seeing yourself as a “work in progress” opens up the likelihood that you could use the feedback as a way to improve.
See the feedback as one person’s perspective…No one person has “the truth.” Every piece of feedback is just one person’s perspective. Even if that person is your boss, they are offering their perspective through their own filters.
Don’t justify or explain…The most important thing to do when someone is giving you feedback is to listen and take it in. That doesn’t mean you have to accept it in the moment…that’s for later. But if you’re justifying and explaining, chances are you are not listening.
Figure out your best way to listen without evaluating…If you know listening without evaluating is hard for you, develop a strategy. I like taking notes. It gives me something to do in the moment and then I have a record for later.
Thank the person…Remember, they have given you a gift even if it doesn’t feel that way right now.
Take some time to let it sink in…Wait a day or so before reviewing your notes. Go do something else you like to do before coming back to it.
Evaluate what is useful for you in light of your own goals…Feedback is an invitation to change: You choose what’s most useful.
By viewing feedback as a gift that helps you achieve your goals, you are taking charge of a process that can often feel threatening and painful. By seeing yourself as a work in progress that benefits from the perspective of others, you focus your attention on who you are becoming rather than on defending who you are now. This is the secret to using feedback effectively.
Please leave a comment if you've developed your own strategies for using feedback to achieve your goals.