Generally, we as humans have a rather subjective view of ourselves. This can be a blessing for the confident and a bit of a curse for the anxious. But it's useful to remember that no one is perfect, and we always have room to improve. A great way to improve is through feedback.
The first session in the Your Clear Next Step Changemakers program focuses on Emotional Intelligence: the ability to manage our own emotions and understand those around us. In the pursuit of growing my own Emotional Intelligence, one thing I have come to value is feedback. The people around us tell us things about ourselves that we may not notice. These might be compliments or constructive criticism, depending on the subject and source.
At Your Clear Next Step, we often frame up the concept that feedback is a gift. Regardless of how they put it, if someone else has taken time to share their perspective about us, they are giving us a gift that we can choose to use to help us get even better. Many people can struggle with this, and it's really easy to have a reaction to feedback, instead of a response. It can be hard to know how to receive feedback that feels critical. We usually want to be liked by our peers, so hearing something negative can be challenging. Like any gift, we don't necessarily have to hold on to the gift we receive, but it is useful to pause, thank them for it, and consider it. And, if you hear the same feedback multiple times, that may be something to take action on.
That’s why we’re here, to help you respond better to feedback. As the receiver, you are in control of your own response, so here are four things to remember to help you respond appropriately so you don’t get stuck in a feedback loop.
1. Be Approachable
Don’t get defensive! If we react defensively, people will be afraid of giving us other feedback in the future, which can cut off avenues of improvement that would otherwise have been open to us. It’s an opportunity, not an attack when someone lets us know something we could work on about ourselves.
How do we do that? Consider our body language.
- What is your face doing? Did you clench your jaw?
- Are your eyebrows up or scrunched together?
- Did you cross your arms defensively?
- What’s your posture? Are you leaning forward or back?
- Did you back off when they offered their opinion?
We often pick up on the body language of those around us as social cues. Acting in one of the ways listed might indicate that we’re reacting negatively. Instead, try making eye contact and nodding, face them to indicate attentive listening and comprehension.
Sometimes we also cannot provide a good reaction due to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Maybe we’re running to a meeting or have an approaching deadline. Ensuring that the person knows that you want to hear what they have to say, just at a later time, goes further than a terse “sorry, not now.”
2. Show Appreciation
It might sound strange, but to the greatest extent possible, we should acknowledge the feedback someone takes the time to give us. Even a simple "thank you" can demonstrate that their words have been heard. Whether or not you agree with the feedback doesn't change the need for the expression of appreciation. We should show them some consideration. It takes a lot of confidence for someone to give us feedback. It can be very hard to critically engage with the people close to us, and generally, people like that have our best interest in mind. It’s just like receiving a tangible gift: even if the gift we've just been given isn't something we thought we wanted, the right thing to do is to say "thank you." From there, we can ask questions to try to understand what the other person was thinking when they gave it to us.
Pro Tip: We don’t have to immediately process it. If you need a moment, you can tell your peers that you need some time to consider what they have said. That ensures that they know we are still taking their words seriously, even as we step away.
3. Know Your Triggers
This is a practice in self-awareness and self-management. Consider number one. Do you do the things mentioned in #1 when you receive feedback? It’s important to consider what our first reactions are. Are we emotional? Do we interrupt what they’re saying? Understanding what the inappropriate versus the appropriate behaviors are is the first step to mitigating and managing those triggers, and ensuring that we can redirect that energy.
If we’re going to interrupt, we could bite our tongues, or take a sip of water so we don't interrupt.
If we feel like crying (while there’s nothing wrong with that, it might give an impression that we don't want to give), we can tense our muscles and redirect that energy.
By understanding the reactions we have in the moment that might be less productive, we can focus on the ways we can react that will be more productive for that moment.
4. Ask Questions
If we receive feedback, especially critical feedback, our first response is to thank them, and our second response should be to clarify what they mean. It's best not to ask to argue or to defend. Instead ask to understand where they’re coming from. Some questions that might be helpful to ask are:
- Where have I demonstrated this behavior?
- What makes you say that?
- What do you think I should do instead?
Sometimes, even if someone says something that sounds negative, they might have said it wrong. As I mentioned, criticizing another person can be nerve-wracking, and their anxieties may have caused them to misspeak. If this happens, asking them if they mean that negative thing, or if they really meant something different might go a long way to not fracture your relationship. If we don’t clarify the feedback we get, we could get stuck in a “feedback loop”, where we are hurt by their words, and they won’t give us any more advice because we didn’t ask the questions we needed to.
While there are always exceptions, and it's possible that someone shared feedback that was less about us than about them, when someone genuinely wants to help us become better, it’s up to us to respond the right way, and take the clear next step in the right direction.
How about you, what do you do when you receive the gift of feedback?