Giving and receiving feedback is enough to make anyone sweat. And it’s understandable. It’s uncomfortable to have to tell someone something they may not want to hear. And, of course, no one likes to hear that they are not making the impact they thought they were.
But we know that feedback is critical to growth—when done properly.
In an ideal world, we should welcome feedback as an indispensable part of our growth.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. In our less-than-ideal world, the feedback we receive is often inaccurate, incomplete, and biased—our behavior interpreted through the lens of someone else’s agenda or values.
Sometimes it’s given harshly, perhaps tainted by the other person’s feelings of disappointment or judgment.
Giving feedback is no picnic either. We’re awkward. Uncomfortable. We over-rehearse what we want to say, to make sure it’s right, but in doing so, don’t notice whether or not our message was actually received.
We focus so much on the delivery we take our eyes off its receipt. We overtalk to compensate for our discomfort, without giving the other person room to process and digest, and importantly—to own the feedback, to make it their own.
So until we live in that ideal world, to derive growth from the imperfectly delivered feedback that we receive, and to make sure the feedback we send is valuable, we need to use our personal power. Our personal power is our locus of control, our sense of ownership and authenticity. Connecting to our personal power makes the feedback process easier—reducing our resistance and creating more constructive outcomes.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but as the feedback receiver, we need to be proactive during the feedback process. Yes, we’re in a receiving role, but it doesn’t mean we’re passive. We need to take ownership, to put ourselves in the driver’s seat.
Well, for starters, don’t assume the feedback giver will do a good job. If they do, great. But don’t expect it. Take control of the situation by following these mindsets and behaviors:
1. Check in on your own goals for growth
Before you receive feedback, take time to check in on your goals, on your benchmarks for success, and on where you think you need to grow. Put yourself at the center of the process, as an active agent seeking information—grounded in your own set of goals.
2. Find your growth mindset
Make this about your growth and learning. Find at least 5% of truth in what you hear. These questions might help: What’s true for you? Where else have you heard this or something similar, before? If you took even just some of this on, how could it help you?
3. Make it Your Own
All feedback comes to you through the filter of another person’s experience, perspective, and agenda. It’s tainted by the values of the context, biased by cultural norms. So, make it yours. Don’t get hung up on truth, or even accuracy, but find your particular understanding of what the person is telling you. What is the ‘why’ of that behavior they’re criticizing? What could even be its value in another context? What didn’t you realize about your impact on others? And what don’t people understand about you? Find your way into the feedback.
If the key to receiving feedback is to put yourself in the driver’s seat, then the key to giving it is to get out of the driver’s seat!
Most often, we just do too much: we talk too much, we give suggestions for improvement, we flood the person with examples. We think we’re doing it to be helpful, but we’re really doing it for us: out of nervousness or awkwardness.
Just like receiving feedback, to give it well, we need to lean into our personal power. We can’t let our nervousness and discomfort drive the bus.
We need to develop our personal power so we can be calm, clear, and put our focus on landing the message, not just delivering it.
The goal of feedback is to create a shift in the other person’s behavior, thinking, or attitude, and for that to happen, they have to receive the feedback, digest it, own it, and understand it on their terms.
1. Get in your growth mindset.
Remember that the goal of feedback is growth, to create a change. So make sure you’re centered, calm, and prepared. And keep the big picture in mind: the point is to improve not to discourage. So stay positive, don’t make it personal, and keep your emotions out of it.
2. Talk about one specific thing.
Prepare what you’re going to say. And be specific. Take time to find the root issue. Don’t present people with a laundry list: find the one thing that the problem behaviors have in common. And don’t interpret. Stick with the behavior:
- “late to meetings,” not “disorganized.”
- “Interrupts others frequently,” not “dominating.”
- “Doesn’t speak up or share opinions,” not “lacks self-confidence.”
Give people specific behaviors so they know what to do to change and let them figure out the why. It’s their job to know why, not yours.
3. Don’t forget to focus on their feedback, too.
Yes, it’s good to prepare what you want to say. And you should identify the central behaviors relating to the feedback—with brief examples. And then, STOP. Focus on their feedback about the feedback. Did the message get received? Do they have questions? What do they think? Give people time to process and digest, because at the end of the day, they have to own the feedback in order for change to happen.
Feedback is a necessary part of growth. But to make it work best, we need personal power, to put ourselves in the driver’s seat of the experience--both as the giver and receiver. The calmer and more centered we are, the more willing we are to make it a useful part of our personal and professional growth.
Julie Diamond, Ph.D is the CEO and founder of Diamond Leadership, an international consulting firm that provides leadership and talent development services, including coaching, assessment, and training. Julie is the author of Power: A User’s Guide, and co-founder of the Power2 Leaderlab, an executive coaching program for women leaders which currently runs a program for senior women leaders at Intel Corporation. Diamond Leadership is the publisher of the Diamond Power Index®, 360-degree leadership assessment, distributed in India by Anahat Organisation Development Consultancy Pvt Ltd.