Feedback is a critical part of self-improvement, whether it be in your personal, professional, or metaphysical life. It’s one of the key ways we learn and grow. But, it can also be incredibly detrimental if not given or received in the proper manner. This might explain why we are often so reticent about feedback and rarely provide or seek it until we are so far removed from the situation in question that the feedback is no longer valuable (see annual performance reviews).
And sure, self-reflection is another key way in which we can learn and grow. But even if you are more self-aware than the average dolphin looking in a mirror, self-reflection is never going to be the same as getting feedback from someone outside of your own head. Different people have different perspectives, different experiences, and different motivations, which lead them to see you in a different light than you see yourself. Self-reflection is important, but it does not negate the need for feedback.
Now, there are as many approaches to giving feedback as there are personality types, people, and moments in time, but we will save that for another post. For now, let’s focus on six helpful tips to ensure you receive the best feedback from someone else:
Ask for Feedback
When you ask for feedback, as opposed to just waiting until it falls from the sky once a year, you’re letting the people around you know that you care about the work you are doing and that you are open to doing anything you can to make it better. This is not a sign of weakness. Don’t assume that by merely NOT asking for feedback you are creating an image of confidence or capability; it just makes it seem like you have no interest in learning or growing. Seeking input from others is also an implicit show of respect (or explicit – if you state how much you value their opinion), which is extremely beneficial to building/enhancing a healthy relationship with the feedback provider. So, win-win.
Ask in a Timely Manner
Much like most things that are good for us, feedback is best served fresh. You are going to get a lot more useful information about how you did in a meeting if you ask your coworker for feedback shortly after the meeting – instead of months later when they can barely remember it. But, try to avoid ambushing them if you can. Some people may not be prepared to give feedback on the spot, so let them know ahead of time you are going to want feedback, and then give them the option to send it via email, Slack, or text message if they don’t want to provide it in person or over the phone.
If you are looking for feedback on something specific or know that you may be sensitive to certain things, establish those concerns in your request for feedback. Don’t be afraid to say: “Hey, I’d really love feedback about the content of my presentation. I know my body language is something I need to work on, but I’m more interested in what you thought of the content I shared.” Set them up so they know what you are looking for and what you are open to. This will make it easier on them if they know what to focus on, but try not to use it as a crutch for avoiding honest feedback that could help you grow.
Assume Positive Intent
Some feedback will be positive, and that’s good because it lets you know what to keep doing. But the most useful feedback will likely be negative, and depending on the person delivering it, the message might feel a little cold, blunt, or critical. I consider myself lucky because giving and receiving feedback is something we greatly value at Thought Ensemble, and as a result, the people here are quite good at it. They have a way of delivering critical feedback without it feeling like they are chastising you. But not everyone you encounter will be as well versed in delivering feedback, so steel yourself before asking for it so that you are prepared for something you may not want to hear. Remember that feedback is critical to driving your growth. Regardless of the tone or words the person giving feedback uses, this person is trying to help you improve yourself, and sometimes that can be painful. As long as the feedback isn’t inappropriate or degrading, try to look at it as a piece of valuable information that you can use to help you improve yourself, as opposed to a criticism of you personally. If you don’t have an easygoing ego, then you might need to make use of a little cognitive dissonance in order to help prevent your feelings from being hurt.
Give Yourself Feedback
If you have a hard time hearing critical feedback from others, it sometimes helps to start the ball rolling yourself. This way it feels more like an alley-oop and less like you are just being dunked on. This also helps signal to the person you are asking for feedback that you really are open to it. If you start by saying something like, “I feel like I may have said ‘Um’ too much during that presentation, and I’m also wondering if I spent too much time talking about processes. What do you think?” It will make you feel less defensive and them feel more open to share.
Having a positive reaction to critical feedback is incredibly important. You want the person giving you feedback to feel comfortable and safe to be able to give honest feedback without fear that you will get upset, angry, or lash out at them. Ask clarifying questions if needed, thank them for the feedback, and talk about how you are going to use it going forward, maybe even discussing next steps with them. Then actually incorporate the feedback and ask them if they felt you improved. This will show you are interested in growing, care about your performance, and are willing to make an effort to change. It also shows that you value their feedback, making them more likely to continue providing it in the future, as well as improving your personal relationship. Even if you disagree with the feedback, be thankful for it, and maybe even have a discussion about it or potentially get a third-party opinion. However, if you react negatively, they may be a lot less willing to give you honest feedback again next time, and in the end, the only person that is going to hurt is you.
Feedback is hard to give and to get, but it’s important to our continued growth, so it’s worth doing. Simply put, life IS evolution: a process of growth and development. The universe continues to grow, time continues to grow, and so should you.