In this follow-up post to giving feedback effectively, we explore the other side of the feedback exchange. How do you effectively receive feedback?
Why this is important
Before we dig into the details we should look at why it’s important to get feedback. Collecting feedback in our software processes is a key part to verifying that our software works or is improving. Whether that means seeing a test suite pass its build or verifying an end user is receptive to a new feature, feedback is critical to building great products. This principle equally applies to us as knowledge workers. How do we know that we’re on track or improving our skills? Feedback is our best mechanism for improving both personally and professionally. In this post, we’ll look closely at how best to receive it.
Feedback may be offered to you as part of your work environment. If it is not, you can still seek it out. Be intentional and don’t wait for someone to offer you feedback. Ask for it. In environments where there’s no clear mentor or manager, you will need to take the initiative.
This is especially important if you’ve identified some goals you’re working toward. Seek out feedback on an ongoing basis to continuously improve until you meet your goals. More often than not, if you ask, others will be willing to provide you with information that will help you improve your performance.
Developing self-awareness will go a long way to allowing to you receive feedback effectively. This is especially true when someone is telling you about things you don’t do well. No one is perfect, we all have opportunities to grow. Having compassion for where you are on your journey is key. What matters more is that you’re open to improving yourself. Being blind to areas where you need to improve will hurt you and others around you far more than hearing someone’s perception of your behavior.
It is normal and healthy to feel uncomfortable with receiving criticism. It’s a necessary part of continued growth. Knowing how others view you is incredibly valuable so accept this as part of the process.
Listen carefully while receiving feedback. Receiving feedback requires a heightened awareness of yourself and the person offering the feedback. Monitor your listening level and notice if you start to become defensive or shut off while you are taking in what they’re saying. Try to put those feelings aside and approach the situation with curiosity.
There’s another perspective to consider here. Instead of expecting that you’ve already mastered everything, what if you think of yourself as a beginner and give yourself space to improve? The fact that people are pointing out areas for growth means you haven’t maxed out your potential. That’s pretty exciting!
It’s time to ACT
As with giving feedback, there’s another three-letter acronym that empowers you to more effectively receive feedback. Accept, Clarify and Thank.
First, we start by showing we’re open to feedback. You want to be approachable. Use your body language, tone of voice, and emotions to show you’re interested and receptive to the feedback. By doing this you’re showing that you seek understanding and it makes the exchange more constructive. Don’t go defensive. You don’t need to make excuses either or try to explain your behavior. Just listen. If you have a negative attitude or are dismissive of their feedback, they’ll be less likely to share it with you now and in the future.
It’s also perfectly fine to allow the conversation to have periods of silence as it allows both sides to take in what’s being discussed. Don’t feel the need to fill in the empty spaces.
The second part is to clarify and understand fully what is being said. Active listening is an excellent communication skill in this situation. At its simplest, you restate the feedback in your own words so that the speaker knows the message you’re receiving is the one they intended to send.
If the feedback is not specific or actionable, ask questions until it is. It may also be appropriate to ask them to give you alternatives to your current behavior.
I think it’s important to not cross the line and ask them to defend their opinion or observations. Feedback is purely subjective and you can determine its value later on. If you really disagree with their opinion, don’t address it in the moment. Doing so is likely to derail the whole conversation.
Finally, thank them for taking the time to give you this valuable feedback. Doing so shows you value their input and are grateful for the effort they’ve spent. It can be scary to give another person critical feedback and by thanking them you will encourage them to give you feedback in the future.
How you use this feedback is up to you. Just because someone gives you feedback, doesn’t mean it’s right or shared by others. It’s purely subjective and colored by their own perceptions and life experiences. At the same time, you shouldn’t flat out ignore it either as their observations are valid for at least one person.
Take the time to evaluate the feedback and consider specific actions for improvement. Use it to clarify your goals, track progress made, or improve your overall behavior.
Feedback truly is a gift and you should treat it as such by putting it into action.