In a recent Emotional Intelligence class, we were talking about how receiving the “gift” of feedback can be used to increase our self-awareness. I posed this question to the class, “Why do you think feedback is illustrated as a gift?” Several people were quick to respond with things like, “you don’t know what it is unless you open it”, “it can be unexpected”, and “someone thought of you and wants to give you something”. Aren’t those great? I thought so too.
But why is this “gift” so hard to receive, especially when it might be corrective? I believe there are several reasons. One, we like to be liked and are wired to avoid discomfort and conflict. Two, we don’t want to hurt people or get hurt, disrupt relationships, or face rejection. And third, sometimes we make it personal or take it personally.
It can be very easy to act defensively or react negatively when someone gives you feedback, particularly when it isn't flattering. However, the purpose of giving feedback is NOT to point fingers or to blame, but it’s to help people be an even better version of themselves. Giving feedback can help create clarity and understanding of a situation, and it gives someone an opportunity to think about what’s happening rather than telling them what to do.
An article in Inc. magazine titled Why Warren Buffet Thinks Feedback is a Gift and So Should You states that, “The more you open yourself up to collecting feedback, the more valuable data you can collect as well. If you hear three people compliment you on the shirt you're wearing, for instance, then you know that's probably a good color for you. Along those same lines, if you hear from several people that you say, "you know" or "umm" too much when you speak, then that becomes very valuable feedback you can act on. This is a life skill that can save lots of problems and accelerate you on your path. To be clear, feedback is one data-point, and you need to listen to your own counsel - others aren't always right.”
If feedback is a “gift” that we need to be open to, here are a few tips and suggestions that might help us do so:
- Be approachable – If you present a defensive hard shell to people where you are resistant to hearing what they might have to say, they will most likely not say anything. Instead, always welcome feedback when someone is willing to give it. Don't miss the opportunity to collect feedback on your actions and behaviors.
- Show appreciation – Acknowledge and thank the person who gave you feedback. Doing this is a sign of maturity and confidence, as well as a behavior that others will follow.
- Know your triggers – Is your first reaction to get angry, exasperated, interrupt, or get emotional when you receive feedback? If so, be prepared to manage these triggers so that they don’t negatively affect the interaction. For example, if your first reaction is to interrupt, bite your tongue (literally) and truly listen to what’s being said.
- Ask questions – This isn’t being defensive if you’re seeking to truly understand what the person is trying to tell you. This can also help diffuse feelings of defensiveness, hostility, or anger you might have. Don't just nod your head in agreement if you don't understand their point.
The time I received feedback...
In my first supervisory role, a colleague commented on how professionally I presented myself and that several younger female professionals just entering the workforce looked up to me. Flattering right? And then she asked me if I realized how fast I walked. I told her that I really hadn’t thought about it, so she then shared that she observed how fast of a walker I am. She suggested that my pace might convey that I’m “too busy” or “in too much of a hurry” to stop and connect, or even that I’m “too important” or “not interested”.
Say what? I know my natural walking pace is fast, but my intent is never to look too busy or too important. Initially I was a bit offended and put off by her comments. But then I remembered if a person is willing to offer honest feedback, it shows they care and want to help. Her feedback gave me the opportunity to think about a situation (my pace) when she could’ve just said “slow down”.
And as the receiver of the feedback, I had the opportunity to either be a reactor or responder. I asked myself several questions: Is this really how others perceive me? What patterns am I demonstrating? What can I learn from this information? How can I use this to be a better version of myself? Her feedback was a data-point, and I had the right and the ability to decide what to do with the feedback.
Are you a reactor or responder? You can ask yourself the following questions to find out. Read each statement below, and candidly answer how you believe you are today.
- Do you find yourself justifying and/or rationalizing when you receive feedback?
- Do you show appreciation to and/or thank the person for providing feedback?
- Does your “inside voice” argue and/or deny the feedback you’re receiving?
- Do you ask questions to ensure you have clarity about what the person is telling you?
- Do you let your biases about an individual and/or situation shape how you will receive feedback before it’s given to you?
- Do you ask for examples and/or stories to illustrate the feedback being provided?
- Do you formulate responses before the other person finishes giving their feedback?
- Do you suspend “in the moment” judgments when receiving feedback?
- Does your finger point outward to external factors when you receive feedback about yourself or your actions/behaviors?
- Do you reflect on what you’ve learned from the feedback?
- Do you make statements rather than asking questions when receiving feedback?
If you answered yes to most odd-numbered questions, then you’re probably a reactor and generally don’t have a state of openness to receiving feedback. However, if you answered YES to most even-numbered questions then you may be more open to what’s being said.
So, what did I do with the gift? I kept it. I walk slower at work and am more observant of those around me. Thanks for the gift, D.U.
Now on the flip side, what is it like to give the gift of feedback? Stay tuned for part 2 where we’ll talk about why giving feedback can be hard, and offer some tips to make it easier.