The Art of Taking Feedback

Feedback

Feedback is the magical thing that we all want to give (but we don’t know how) and we are never ready to receive (because we still don’t know how). Between October and March, a lot of us will be getting their annual performance evaluations, while some of us will be giving annual performance evaluations to their direct reports. There are many ways to do it (on either side) and none of them is correct or wrong.

This article is not about giving feedback but rather about getting feedback. This is the article I wish I had read before I received every single piece of feedback in my life.

Time to read

Time to read: 10 minutes (based on 150 works per minute).

Feedback? What is feedback?

Have you ever had a period in your life you almost feel sorry about? Do you remember looking back at it and wondering: “Why didn’t anybody warn me?!?” Have you ever been so sure in the direction you are going for so long only to find yourself in a dead end? “Who would have thought I would end up there?”, I hear you say. Well maybe someone did think you will end up (there). And maybe, just maybe, that someone tried to tell you, but you didn’t listen. This is feedback.

This chapter is about that little thing inside each of each which is so loud that can deafen our ears (in the good and the bad sense). Which is so bright it can blind our eyes (again in a good or bad way). The thing which is so smelly that it can repel or entice us at the same time. EGO!

What is the problem with ego?

This is what is usually keeping you from being a good feedback receiver. How could another person possibly know how complicated a creature you are? Well, guess what? Nobody needs to know you inside out to try and help you, give you a guidance. Are they always right? Of course not! But do you have to push back all the time? Not really.

The benefit of this article will be a framework to help you take feedback in a positive way. It will not work right way, but it will work … eventually. But the benefit is not in listening to feedback, the benefit is actually the feedback. Every piece of advice you get from someone could be important and could be used to reinforce your value.

More details about Ego in Ryan Holidays excellent book – “Ego Is the Enemy” (link to Goodreads).

Personal story on feedback

This article (like almost anything I write) is for me before I get some feedback on a Friday and before I spend the whole weekend obsessing about it (in the most unhealthy and negative way). Before I muster the courage to gather all the facts and ask for a second feedback session. And before I realize that I had built a sandcastle in my head without even getting the facts straight. This is a message in a bottle for me … to read in the past.

How can you take feedback?

Most feedback situations happen so fast and end so quickly that you have no time to think straight. And most of the time you get back in a negative, ego-protecting shell and block most of the information from your memory.

Step 1: Take notes

The best action you can do in the beginning is to pause and prepare to take notes. Maybe, you can ask for a second to take a pen and a notebook or to open your note-taking app on the phone. This will give you the few seconds required to get your emotional reaction in check. Before your brain freezes with all the ego-preservation techniques it has learned (by evolution) a million years ago. Remember that person go out of their way to tell you something they thought you might want to hear.

Step 2: Listen

Imagine you have two brains. Well, if you’ve ever read Daniel Kahneman “Thinking Fast and Slow” (link to Goodreads), you know that you actually have two brains. During your feedback conversation the fast brain will be very active. Don’t listen to it, don’t respond in your head, and don’t build up your case while listening. Concentrate on taking notes and writing as much as possible about what the other person is telling you. Will you need this!

Step 3: Ask questions

This will be the hardest part. Again, your brain will be screaming with excuses and counter-accusations. Let them pass by and concentrate on getting the most of the conversation.

  • Do you mean that I could have done …?
  • Do you really think that X felt …?
  • What was the specific thing that triggered your …?

Try to understand the substance of the feedback. Keep in mind that most people are horrible feedback providers, especially in tough situations. Forget the fluff and the feelings. Get away from the emotions. Try to get to the stuff.

Step 4: Ask for specific examples

Get as specific as possible. Ask about a specific occurrence where the feedback provider things that you have demonstrated the behavior about which they are talking. There could be multiple layers of the onion in this, try to peel all of them. Get everything on paper (or online). All the specific nitty-gritty details. Again, you will need this later.

Step 5: Summarize

If you can, and I know that this is asking too much already, try to get a summary out as part of the discussion. This will take a lot of maturity and most of your mental strength. Especially, if the feedback is exposing a growth area or an opportunity.

  • So, you are telling me that …
  • You would like to see my do more of … and less of …
  • This is an example of a situation that you would like to avoid: …

Step 6: Be grateful

At the end instead of loading your insulting vocabulary in your head, try to say, “Thank you for getting out of your way to say this to me!” And … it gets even harder … mean it. Again, this person is doing something extraordinary for you. They are giving you an insight into a part of you for you about which you know almost nothing. Treasure that. Honestly, this step will probably come after Step 8, but if you can do it here – you will be amazing!

Step 7: Analyze

Let the emotional tide subside. Do something else for a while. Take a walk or even go sleep (or go for a nap). Let the emotional, stress response subside. Unlike millions of years of ago, when somebody threatens you (especially in a normal work or life environment) this does not really threaten your physical well-being. When you are back to your senses try to analyze (but don’t over-analyze). Try to extract that the feedback means to you and how you can use it to become a better person.

Avoid the urge of calling all your friends to let them know what a jerk X is. This could be true, he or she may be a bad person with bad intentions, but try to get to the essence of the message.

Step 8: Follow up

“Now, after I had gathered my thoughts, can we get back to this? What I heard yesterday was that … and that I need to … instead of … Does that make sense? Was that the message you wanted to give me?”

You would be amazed how after the answer will be “No, not at all. What I meant was …” And then you are like: “Oooh!” Always, always, always, if you can, follow up after getting feedback.

Step 9: Practice

The more you have to do this, the better you will become at this. One of my asks to everybody I speak with is: “Tell me what is not going as you expected it.” Give me the growth opportunities. I am so good at asking this question and it is so frustrating that I am never ready to actually here the feedback when it comes. Because people usually answer with “All good” to my question. And then I assume that indeed all is good. And then feedback comes (in a different format), I am not ready … again!

So, practice until you get good at it. And then practice some more because you are never good at it.

Nine steps to help you get better at receiving feedback.

Summary

The only thing standing in the way of receiving feedback in a positive way is your ego. Your ego is part of your fast brain and you cannot actually control it. All that you can do is to practice certain habits when you start getting feedback so that you give your slow brain some time to concentrate on getting the message.

Next steps

What are the next steps?

If you have liked my article, please proceed to my contact page, where you can view various ways to contact me.

Thanks!

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