What is feedback? In the most basic understanding, it is a piece of information that comes back to you, a reaction of the others on what and how you do things.
Feedback comes in many forms – you can get it in a conversation, in an e-mail, or you can observe it as an action. Your customers give you feedback by simply choosing or not choosing to do business with you again; your employees can do it with their behaviour, and your kids can make faces and/or slam the doors in reaction to your actions.
You might like it or not, but most of those you meet and work with has an opinion about you and what you do. Some people will share these opinions with you and feed you back the information on how you did. The key to learning from this process is how you receive these opinions and information and what you do with it afterwards.
Start with: Thank You
The most straightforward advice about receiving feedback, even, or maybe especially, the negative one, was the one I found in the book “What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith. “Treat every piece of advice as a gift or a compliment and simply say, “Thank you”. No one expects you to act on every piece of advice. If you learn to listen – and act on the advice that makes sense – the people around you may be thrilled.”
We tend to accept the feedback when it is consistent with our self-image and reject the one which does not match it. What helps is to remember that what we hear from others is not an absolute truth – it is an opinion or advice given to us; what we do with it is our choice.
However, even if we profoundly disagree with what we hear, it is usually worth a minute or two of consideration and careful thinking of why the person sees us like that. Can others have a similar idea about us, too?
So what to do when you receive negative feedback?
- Don’t react immediately and take time to process your emotions – hearing criticism is never easy, especially when we are caught off-guard and learn how different our self-image is from how others see us. Take time before you react; decide what your reaction should be if any. Start with thank you and take time to digest. (You might find some ideas on reacting vs responding in this article)
- Ask back and make sure you understand what you heard. Part of the art of giving feedback – even the positive one – is to make it clear. Art on the receiving side is to make sure you understand it. When you receive information, take a moment to ask clarifying questions. You cannot act on something vague and unspecified; you cannot really do anything with something like: “you can do better next time”. How can you become a better communicator if you don’t know precisely what you need to improve? (You can read more on the importance of asking questions here)
- Think about what was behind the words you just heard – was it constructive or destructive feedback? Sometimes we get comments and remarks from people who don’t care about our growth, who seem to enjoy criticising others or simply like to complain. Do you know anyone like that? Instead of beating yourself up over the destructive comments you heard, focus on feedback that aims to create positive change, gives specific suggestions and is offered with good intentions.
- It is not about you – good constructive feedback talks about your behaviour and your action, things you can change and improve. Keep in mind that it is not a personal attack (if it is, it is not constructive feedback; feel free to ignore it). Don’t let criticism of your action or skill impact your confidence. Keep in mind that your self-worth does not change based on anyone’s opinion.
- Talk to someone you trust. Don’t stay with the problem and negative feedback alone. I know it might be challenging to share; we might fear that others share the critic’s opinion. But consulting with someone you trust and rely on will give you the support you need and the strength to look at the events more calmly and constructively.
- If you decide to act and change based on the feedback you received – make sure others know about it. Sometimes it is more difficult to change the perception of you than to change yourself – when you involve others in your change process, not only will they help you, but they will more likely notice and appreciate the efforts you put into it.
Feedback is a gift
Feedback, when given and appropriately received, is a gift.
You gain a different perspective on what and how you do; you get access to knowledge of how others see you and the actual impact you have on them. But like with any gift, you can decide what to take from it. Find the part that is true in the feedback received and decide if you want to act on it or not.
Remember that what is unknown to us may be well-known to others.
Listen carefully, and learn from that.