Checklist for Receiving Feedback

[This blog is the second in a series on feedback. Feedback-givers, don’t miss last week’s article: 6 suggestions to keep in mind when giving feedback.]

Imagine: Your boss or a colleague says they have feedback for you. 

Where do your thoughts go? Are you a “Hooray, a chance to learn something new about myself!” kind of person? Or, does your brain start to scream, “Oh, $h*T! No, no, no!”? 

And where do you feel it in your body? Do you get a pit in your stomach, does your heart rate quicken, your vision narrow? Is it excitement, nervousness, fear? 

Like most everything in life, feedback is all about how we frame it. 

If feedback is a gift, we can embrace it and use it every chance we get it. 

OR… we can reject feedback, exchange it, put it on display it when the giver visits, or throw it in the trash bin. Like an email that you archive for later or simply delete, you have a choice what you do with feedback. 

The truth is: We benefit the most when we stop grouping feedback into positive or negative buckets, and simply think of all feedback as an opportunity.

Here are a few tips to remember the next time you find yourself the recipient of feedback—

1) Know thyself. 

In organization development, we call this having grounded or good “Use of Self.”  Use of Self—a version of self-exploration and self awareness—involves many facets of identity and essentially leverages aspects of your personality traits, behavior, value systems, and culture as part of whatever practice you are to engage in. 

In the case of feedback, you know yourself. You must keep this in mind throughout the process while also remaining cognizant of the way the other person’s traits, behavior, values and culture inform the way that they, too, are engaging. 

When you have invested time exploring your own values, behaviors, and the way your life experiences color how you receive information, you will be anchored in a better understanding of yourself and what hopes you have throughout the conversation.

2) Set clear goals.

Part of knowing yourself is knowing where you want to go. I am naming goal-setting as a separate task here, though, because I see goal-setting as more external work. 

When your goals at work—and in each aspect of your life—are clear, receiving feedback is easier. 

Want to be a manager? How do you think this might affect how you will hear feedback from your boss? Or even, your wife?

How about if you have any goals about the type of person you want to be? Or, if you want to be a parent or a marathon runner?

For me, if I wanted to be a manager, it would get me thinking about the kind of manager I might want to be. It would also get me thinking more about being the person in the position to give feedback. I might receive it differently if I want to be seen as a “manager type” or simply because I am receiving it with more empathy. 

If my wife were giving me feedback and I wanted to be a manager, I might be able to be more removed from the feedback, or think about it as though we were managing our “team” of children together. 

Thinking about being a parent, I might think about how I would like my children to receive feedback or witness me receive it. What would I tell them to do or say in the same instance? Would a marathon runner need feedback of all kinds to get to that level? You bet. 

Goal-setting is transformative in the way it shifts perspective and puts feedback in context.

3) Consider the Source. 

Begin with people you trust, but also those who will be honest with you. Do this while keeping in mind your goals. 

If you need to build your confidence, perhaps a harsher critic is not the place to start. If you need someone more direct because everyone else in your Toastmasters club is not going to be as detail-oriented or pull out as much of what you are capable of, seek out the one person who really will tell you how to improve. 

Remember that feedback often says more about the giver than the receiver. Do not make this an excuse to distance yourself from feedback! However, do not forget it either. Your Use of Self is your guide. 

Elizabeth Gilbert always asks these four questions before letting anyone critique her work:

  • Do I trust this person’s taste and judgment?
  • Does this person understand what I’m trying to create here?
  • Does this person genuinely want me to succeed?
  • Is this person capable of delivering the truth to me in a sensitive and compassionate manner?

We don’t always have the luxury of choice, but we can consider the factors.

4) Seek out feedback regularly. 

Do not wait for feedback to come to you. Ask for it. Regularly, directly; informally and formally.

Make a rubric or a few questions you can send to people from different facets of your life—be it professional, familial, friendships, your spiritual community, neighbors, volunteer work, or others. 

I recently asked for support in a “Confidence 360.” After struggling with confidence for my entire life, I reached out to a few key members from different facets of my life and asked them probing questions about me: What am I great at? What do you appreciate about me? What do you value most about me? After collecting and reading the responses, I wondered why I hadn’t done this sooner! I hope to initiate more regular forms of feedback to support me in my work and development. 

No one is going to do this for me and no one is going to do this for you either. 

This should be easier when your goals are clear.

5) When given the choice, clarify what type of feedback you seek: Appreciation, Coaching or Evaluation.

  • Appreciation: you may need some encouragement—and not advice on what you need to do differently yet.
  • Coaching: you are perhaps at this point open to hearing ideas on better ways to do things.
  • Evaluation: being told more so where you stand, such as in a performance evaluation; a bit more formal.

These three types were helpful for me to discern. Still, even if not ‘categorized,’ just know what you need. Then, when you go in to get it, you can be clear. As people, we are conditioned to give information in the way we were taught to give it, not in the way we crave it. If this were true, powerpoints may die. 

So it’s up to you to tell the person what you need and then up to them to remain in those guidelines. 

For times when you cannot give this much direction, I have been successful in expressing the way I best understand information. For example, stating, “It’s really helpful to me when I can hear specific examples.” Or, “Sometimes I get confused when told what not to do, instead of told precisely what it is you would like me to do.” 

No kidding. At the gym, I cannot tell you how many times my trainer used to say, “Okay, Anne, don’t do this!” When it came to my turn, I would mix everything up. This one clarification worked great for both of us and we had a good laugh.

6) Give thought to how you will respond. 

Often, the best response to feedback is a simple “thanks for the feedback. I will give that some thought,” or even a simple “thank you.”

I prefer this method myself so that I can process it and come back with a fresh head. I feel this way no matter what is spoken, especially because I have a tendency to overthink, to inflate the negative and dismiss or make excuses for positive (see: impostor syndrome). 

Exercising your option to accept, reject or put on hold is certainly fine. 

This said, it is best not to explain, justify or rationalize. 

Others choose to use the time to ask for greater specificity. This should be done in a respectful tone with genuine intentions, of course. 

Examples or advice may be asked, or hypothetical questions may be used. These are all fine strategies. 

For instance—

If you were in my shoes, what would you do differently?

Is there any other pieces of advice you could offer that you believe would help me succeed?

I am still unclear about how I do [X, Y, Z thing you say I do]. Could you please offer some specific examples to help me better understand better?

Could you please tell me a specific time or two that I [X, Y, Z thing you say I do]? I would love to use the example to track my progress as we move forward. 

Next time you see me [X, Y, Z thing you say I do], could you agree to point it out to me in real time? This way, I can observe myself in the act and catch myself to better change my behavior.

7) Whenever possible, enter with a clear head.

Take a walk, meditate, write down thoughts you have that you want to be sure you make or avoid, clear your own schedule, and do what is needed to have a healthy conversation. 

If you are not in a space to receive feedback it is perfectly acceptable to say just that. 

“[Anne], I am not in a good space to hear feedback right now. I really value your feedback and want to make sure that I get all of it. Can we talk sometime [after lunch, tomorrow, after my sister gets out of surgery]? 

If the person giving the feedback is tremendously busy, then I would hope this would have been put on your calendars in advance anyway.

In a healthy workplace, healthy behavior is promoted. Do what is healthiest for you and this other person.

8) Choose—ahead of time—how much power these words will have. 

We often let feedback become more powerful than it is because of power dynamics, our own insecurities, outdated constructions and more. 

Be very clear on your who in our lives offers feedback to us that we internalize. Be very clear on what you have to offer.

Remain steadfast and agile, remembering the analogy of feedback as gift. You get to decide how what you do with it. 

In the end, both Giver and Receiver should check for understanding, thank one another for their time and vulnerability and express appreciation, if it feels right to them. 

Feedback, no matter how awesome it is, is a conversation that involves risk by everyone involved and this deserves to be recognized and celebrated.

[This blog is the second in a series on feedback. Feedback-givers, don’t miss last week’s article: 6 suggestions to keep in mind when giving feedback.]

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Still confused? Or want to talk this through a bit more? I’d love to; this stuff is my specialty. To set up a 30-minute phone chat with a member of our team, sign up here or email ahilb@graymake.com.

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