Brace Yourself: Feedback

This guest blog is written by Ted Johnson, who has been in executive recruiting for 20 years. 

Feedback has somehow transformed into a four-letter word. “Can I give you some feedback?” has never in the history of human interaction been followed by: “That was amazing! Keep doing it exactly like that.” Which makes the common response of tensing up and wanting to scream “EVERYTHING YOU ARE ABOUT TO SAY IS A LIE!” completely understandable. Sort of. After all, feedback is a form of constructive criticism; which is a form of criticism.

But your goal isn’t to avoid criticism, is it? It’s to grow personally and professionally, which you recognize requires acute awareness of your areas for development and not just focusing on your (perceived) strengths. Therefore, to stay true to your personal and professional goals, you must get comfortable with receiving feedback. That begins with understanding what it even is. And isn’t.

Feedback IS Feedback IS NOT
Neither “positive” nor “negative” A personal attack or commentary on you
Either accurate or not An instruction manual
The perspective of one person The world’s view of your flaws

Now that we better understand what it is and is not, let’s discuss some important tips which you should incorporate into any feedback conversation:

  1. Take a Deep Breath. The natural response for many, as discussed above, is for some form of the fight or flight response to kick in. It shouldn’t be, but it requires effort to retrain yourself. Feedback isn’t synonymous with confrontation so, slow down, take a deep breath and remember that this is a learning opportunity. Not an attack.
  2. Then Stop Thinking. For many, once the feedback is delivered, we will immediately start wracking our brains for examples of when we committed whatever unforgivable sin we are being accused of committing. Simultaneously, we will begin mounting a defense by scanning our memory for examples that contradict this claim. “She’s telling me I talked too fast? The horror! Wait, I definitely didn’t talk too fast because I distinctly remember telling myself to slow down at 9:52am…” By now, you’ve missed most of the feedback. And you’ve definitely missed the point.
  3. Instead, Listen. This sounds easy. Maybe it will be for you. But if you are going through the common loop outlined above, I promise that you aren’t listening.
  4. Thank Them. It may sound counterintuitive but we only give feedback to those whose development we care about. No one spends time giving feedback to and taking an interest in the growth of someone they don’t think will ever accept and apply it. And frankly, feedback isn’t easy for everyone to deliver. So, this usually shows a significant commitment to the recipient’s development and should be respected accordingly.
  5. Reflect Later. As mentioned above, in the moment, your only job is to carefully listen to the feedback being offered. Only once you are in a place to think about the message, should you reflect on the accuracy and usefulness of the feedback. This step is crucial as it requires you to be completely honest with yourself. Is this something you have heard from multiple, trusted sources? If so, it’s likely accurate whether you think it is or not. Would accepting this feedback and incorporating it into your performance have a positive impact on your growth and development? If so, it’s likely worth taking it to heart.

Applying these techniques isn’t easy. It will take time, especially steps 1 & 2. But with this basic framework, you will be better prepared to engage in any conversation in which feedback is delivered. This will allow you to recognize the value and takeaways embedded in it, and you will be one step closer to being your Best You.