Part 1: Practical Tips on the Art of Receiving Feedback, or The Critical First Step is Not Enough
Article by Jim Jensen...
Feedback is one of the most frequently heard terms in leadership and team development, yet giving and receiving feedback are two of the most challenging skills to master.
Because most of the literature out there seems to be on how to give feedback effectively, these articles will focus on receiving. Receiving feedback can be an incredibly rewarding skill once you figure out how to do it well. “Well” of course is a relative term, but if you can improve your effectiveness at this skill, you will improve your effectiveness as a leader.
The first step in any journey is critical...
... but the first step is never enough. It is subsequent steps that make a journey successful and complete.
Many organizational leaders these days are sincerely engaged in personal journeys of growth and discovery. If you are reading this you're probably one of them. You most likely have heard that accurate, constructive feedback from your peers and direct reports is a powerful tool for discovery. You also probably know that the best way to get constructive feedback is to ask for it. That’s the first step. It’s a critical step and a valuable skill. But that first step is not enough for you to ensure the powerful growth that can occur when your people take the risk to share with you their perceptions.
People who work together have feedback to give; there is no doubt about that. In many cases, they are hungry for the opportunity to share their perceptions in order to support a leader they value and respect. In my work with leaders and teams, I have found that it is only those “enlightened leaders” who develop the skill of routinely saying things like the following: Can you give me some feedback on that? - If you have feedback for me I really want to hear it. - OK, please help me understand the impact of what I just said or how I said it.
Asking for feedback is the best way to open the door...
... the door to incredibly valuable discussions that can help you become more aware of your impact on others, discussions that can truly help you grow in your ability to effectively interact and lead. The people who work for and with you day to day have more valuable information about you than the best executive coach money can buy. You could participate in a high-quality leadership development program and receive valuable information from 360 assessments (not that there’s anything wrong with that, in fact, there is plenty right with that), but inevitably when people read through their 360 reports they find themselves asking things like, I wonder who said that? or I wonder what they meant by that?
Feedback should never be the end of a discussion; it is most valuable as a beginning. One benefit of having trusting relationships where you can solicit and receive direct feedback is that you can ask those questions aloud, and in real time.
Asking for feedback is the critical first step. But what is far more critical is what you do, say or think immediately after someone takes the risk to offer his or her perceptions.
If you are in a position of power and you ask for feedback from someone or from a group of people, trust me, unless your emotional bank accounts are rock solid you just launched a veritable plethora of internal dynamics. Unspoken thoughts begin to flood the room. Thoughts like; Does he really want to know how we feel about that? Wow, this is great… but I won’t be able to say what I think in a way she can hear it! Will others support me on this or will they watch as the bus slowly rolls over me? I’d love to share my thoughts…but I would also love to keep my job!
Here are five things you should not do
(unless your intent is to stifle feedback and make sure that people will keep any future perceptions to themselves)
1. Immediately disagree. Say something like, Oh, I don’t see it like that, or I really don’t think I came across that way.
2. Don’t say anything at all. If you disagree in your heart, just keep your opinion to yourself and keep quiet – a surefire way to keep your people guessing and wondering if they just made one of those career-limiting comments. By the way, just saying thank you and walking away without another word is almost as bad as saying nothing at all. Unless they are rock solid in their relationship with you, it’s just another way to keep them guessing.
3. Rationalize, justify or explain away your behavior. Say something like, Well you need to understand where I was coming from and what I was thinking. (At least don’t make that your first reaction - See Part 2…)
4. Get angry. Some people show anger by raising their voice or slamming a fist on the table. The more subtle ones just furrow their eyebrows and shake their heads ever so slightly. Either approach is an excellent way to put an end to undesirable information.
5. Turn it back on them: Are you sure you’re not playing a part in this?”
If you’re like most people you’ve probably done at least one of these things if not most. We all have. But doing these things from a position of authority carries a whole lot more weight. The intent of considering the above things to not do is to help you appreciate the power and influence that you have simply by your position as “leader”. Most leaders underestimate that power and influence. However, they might wonder, What if I disagree? What if the feedback makes me angry? Why can’t I respond the way others would respond? Shouldn’t my responses be authentic? While I would always recommend being authentic, your authenticity can create wedges and damage relationships, or it can create trust and relationship strength.
The fact is you likely will react emotionally to feedback, whether it’s positive, or challenging and uncomfortable. Regardless, there are other ways that you can still be authentic in your reactions without shooting, or shaking up the messenger.
For the rest of the story, including six things you can do to make it more likely that people will trust you enough to share their perceptions, check out my next post for the conclusion of Part 2: Practical Tips on the Art of Receiving Feedback or The Critical First Step Is Not Enough
With a home base in Michigan, we provide leadership team development and team building programs, and organizational culture and consulting services worldwide.
A version of this blog post first appeared in Crux Move Consulting’s blog
Dynamic Teams: Leadership Team Building. Building healthy culture by building healthy leadership teams
Jim Jensen, MA LPC is the Principal and Founder of Dynamic Teams LLC, specializing in helping leaders of companies build healthy culture through dynamic leadership teams.