Have you ever spotted someone with spinach in their teeth and didn’t say anything? You’re not alone. A recent study showed that over 98% of people withhold feedback, even when there’s very little on the line – despite most of us wishing we received a lot more of it.
If you’re one of 63% of employees wanting more feedback, our bet is that your workmates are falling short because they’re deeply uncomfortable delivering it. We live in a knowledge economy, where communication, critical thinking, agility and problem-solving are essential skills. Yet, leaders rarely receive formal feedback training and are ill-prepared to provide it. Madness.
Meaningful feedback directly correlates with high performance, so it’s vital to seek it out – even if “I have some feedback for you” are the six most feared words in workplace vernacular. The biggest impact you can have on the amount you’re given is by focusing on how you receive it, so here’s how to turn on the tap:
1. Short-circuit your defensive instincts
Think of feedback as a gift. The giver doesn’t want to hurt your feelings, and your response will hugely impact whether they’ll give you that gift again.
While we all recognise that feedback is helpful, fear of failure can cause our lizard brains to initiate fight, flight or freeze mode. Our amygdala can’t tell the difference between physical and psychological threats and will jump in to ‘save’ us by overriding our logical brains – leading to an irrational (and sometimes embarrassing) response.
We’ve all been guilty of defensiveness when hearing something less than glowing about ourselves – especially if it hits a little too close to home. Fortunately, the best antidote is mindfulness. If you feel your heart rate rising, start by saying ‘thank you’, then pause, take a deep breath and pay attention to the physical changes in your body. This will give you those vital seconds to gather yourself and convey your appreciation (even if you don’t feel it yet!).
2. Listen to understand
We all think that we are good listeners, but research shows we only remember 25-50% of what we hear. When it comes to feedback, active listening is critical to understanding the message, not just what you assume it might be. Not convinced? Watch Couples Therapy.
It can be hard to rearrange your features into a ‘tell me more’ expression when someone has just delivered an emotional sucker punch. So try this tactic: repeat back the key points as you heard them. It’ll force your brain to focus on listening to understand instead of thinking about how you’ll respond.
While some can immediately respond to feedback in an elegant manner, most of us are safer sticking with questions to ensure we digest the detail. It’s ok to finish the conversation with, “Thanks for the feedback! I’m going to think about it a bit more and get back to you”. Then take the time to go for a walk, drink, or cry because this stuff is hard.
3. Create and share your action plan
Your actions after receiving feedback are an excellent opportunity to develop your leadership skills. Even if you wind up disregarding some points (and that’s ok, you don’t need to accept everything!), you’ll likely identify a few things you’re happy to work on.
Firstly, validate the feedback. Opinions are always valuable, but they’re sometimes inaccurate. When dealing with a sample size of one, consider going over the key points with some trusted colleagues. It might be tempting to share your emotional response, or shoulder tap people who dismiss the feedback, but resist that urge!
Secondly, develop a short list of improvements and start implementing them. Begin with visible actions, so your colleagues benefit from the immediate effects – they’ll respect your commitment to improving yourself.
30 Second action
Before your next meeting, identify one attendee you trust to be honest. Share that you are trying to improve your meeting effectiveness and ask them to spot something you might be able to improve. Put into practice what you’ve just learned about receiving feedback!
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