Episode 2(A) of our Leadership Series started a series of its own: communication. We talked about a maybe not so obvious communication tool, which we sometimes forget to use, or maybe don’t make enough use of, out of our desire to communicate right away. We talked about listening.
In episode 2(B), we talked about one of the tools we use – almost all the time – to express ourselves, our likes and dislikes, wants and needs: feedback. More specifically, giving feedback.
In this episode, we talk about receiving feedback.
It’s funny, isn’t it, how, when we talk about feedback, we typically have this preconceived image of someone, usually ‘the boss’, coming and telling us we’ve done something wrong. They say it and leave it with us. And that’s it. End of conversation.
First of all, that’s not a conversation. That’s a monologue, a criticism, a line. And it certainly is not feedback.
Feedback is a dialogue. One that takes time to give and discuss. If it doesn’t take time, it’s a waste of energy, because it leads to no result.
Now, the question is, how can I make it a dialogue?
Let’s look at these 6 steps to receiving feedback:
This is the hardest part, and it’s right at the beginning! We need to listen (so you might want to revisit the article on listening now). This means no interruptions. No escaping into defensive strategy building - just concentrate on what is being said.
- Lower down the volume of distractions, especially the internal ones!
- Be prepared to discuss solutions, not take sides (not even your side!)
- Make notes (or at least mental ones)
2. Reflect back: summarize and paraphrase
Summarize key messages to demonstrate you have got the intended messages and that you are listening. Their views are valid, even if you do not think that they are correct. You’re looking at the same thing from two different standpoints!
- I heard you say…
- What I’m hearing is….
- You mentioned ‘process needs improvement’ a few times so far…
3. Explore: ask, don’t assume!
You may not agree with what you hear, that’s ok, we’re not supposed to agree with everything and everyone!
Knowing this, you can simply focus on wanting to understand what is being said and why this person is reacting in this way. Stay calm (breathing always helps), show interest and seek examples to clarify.
Ask for more information. Ask questions to find out more about the topic and, whilst they are at it, more about any other topic too.
In this part, we say ‘So’ a lot!
- So, by [this], do you mean [that]?
- Can you give me an example?
- So] What happened?
- What did they say?
- You said you need more time, how much time do you mean?
- [So] What do you see as a solution in this case?
4. Express your observations, concerns, assumptions
Now is a good time to use some of the techniques for giving feedback. Remember how we talked about giving negative feedback and include feelings? That’s it.
When receiving feedback, we need to express our observations, concerns, assumptions, ideas AND feelings.
Keeping it all bottled up never helped anyone, under any circumstance. At some point, the bubble can only burst. Express yourselves without being defensive or aggressive. Express your honest reactions from a place of observation and care.
- My concern is…
- I’m afraid that if we change this now it will result in…
- I disagree with some of the points you’ve made on [1, 2, 3]…
- I’m not 100% sure our approach on [this] is the right one.
- By ‘let’s finish this soon’ I assume you mean tomorrow morning?
5. Say ‘thank you’!
They took the time to observe and think about how they express their observations. That’s one definition of caring. It takes a lot of courage for anyone to come forward and give negative feedback, knowing that we’re not going to like what we hear, knowing that them, as ‘feedbackers’, might end up being misunderstood, judged, criticized.
Talking to each other from this place of caring about what is going to happen next always helps. Acknowledging and respecting each other’s effort in both giving and receiving feedback, that takes that dialogue to a whole new level! A level where collaboration starts and creativity sparks. A level that takes us to the 6th step below.
6. Decide / agree on the next steps!
Now that we agree on what the issues and concerns are, we can decide on the solutions. Feedback discussions need to be solution-oriented. Anything less is not feedback.
So make your list of solutions you agreed on and decide how and when you are going to implement them.
Instead of conclusion
Our relationships can only be as healthy as the food we give them! Feedback should be just that, healthy food for healthy relationships, both professional and personal!
And yes, feedback takes a lot of courage: the courage to be honest, to tell you my truth and how things look from where I stand, while feeling uncomfortable and expecting you will disagree with me. It’s the courage to have a dialogue on what I don’t agree with from what you just said, and agree on what will work for both of us from now on.
This kind of courage, to have that ‘tough conversation’ rather than ignore it, to show-up rather than hide away, that’s what fosters accountability and trust.
And leadership is that place where trust is present at all times, good or bad.
How to use others' feedback to learn and grow | Sheila Heen | TEDxAmoskeagMillyardWomen