As someone who believes leaders aren’t born, they’re made, I highly value giving and receiving feedback about leadership and management skills. It’s been my experience that our profession shies away from giving useful feedback and constructive criticism because we want to be nice or liked. It’s all too tempting to say to the person sitting across from you: “You’re doing a great job, keep it up,” even as you inner voice is screaming at you to bring up The Thing(s). I’ve come across a number of pieces for suggesting how to give feedback, but rarely do I read something about receiving feedback. After reading a post on Librarian with the Lead Pipe that my colleague had sent me (thanks Melanie!), I decided to take a closer look at one of the sources the authors cite: Douglas Stone and and Sheila Heen’s Thanks for the Feedback.
The premise of the book is that our tendency is to become instantly defensive when we hear anything negative about ourselves or our performance. That response makes it all but impossible for the feedback to penetrate and for us to learning something from the conversation. The authors argue there are 3 types of feedback:
- Appreciation- this thing you did was great for this reason- keep it up.
- Coaching- guiding a person to develop a particular skill.
- Evaluation- most commonly thought of as the annual performance review.
To best hear the type of feedback we’re receiving or that we’ve asked for, we need to make a mental shift from taking in the other person’s data and interpretations to thinking about the advice, the consequences of the behavior being identified on other people, and the expectations others have for us to change that behavior. This shift is really hard to do when what we’re hearing in our heads is: “You’re totally wrong about this!!!!”
I’m a big believer in using the facts of a situation to ground myself, which is an especially helpful strategy to combat that voice. I always ask for clarifying questions, such as:
- When did you experience X behavior?
- How did you interpret X behavior?
- What would you suggest I do differently in the future?
I try (though I don’t always remember) to thank the person first for giving me this feedback. Expressing thanks is especially important if the person giving the feedback is a direct report, or sits below you on the org chart. When a supervisor gives me feedback, I try to turn that conversation into a coaching moment, so I can learn something from this more experienced leader. Regardless of who gives the feedback, I always return to that conversation a day or two later. I like to reflect on how I handled receiving the feedback, what if anything I should change in response, and how to solicit more feedback about that particular behavior, if I think more facts/data from different perspectives would be helpful.
How do you respond to feedback???