I’ve written a lot about giving feedback, particularly in The Feedback Book. It’s an essential skill for anyone who works in a team and/or manages people in the workplace. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that that feedback isn’t just given – it’s also received. How do you feel when a colleague says, “I’d like to give you some feedback”? Wary and worried, curious and constructive or somewhere in between? Whether the feedback you’re getting is positive / praise – or negative / corrective, you need to remember that feedback, given well, is a gift we can benefit from.
1. Stay grounded
If our experience of feedback has primed us to perceive a threat, we can easily suffer a so-called ‘amygdala hijack’ when we receive feedback – even before we know if the feedback’s good or bad. The amygdala is a tiny part of our brain, ancient in terms of human evolution and associated with ‘flight, fight or freeze’ responses to danger. But you’re not being chased by a woolly mammoth; you’re in your 21st century workplace, having a conversation with a colleague.
To prevent a rush of stress hormones and unhelpful emotions, it’s essential to stay in the here and now. Start by noticing your physical sensations – are you feeling hot, chilly, relaxed or taut? Check with your breathing; take slow and steady breaths. Listen to the sounds around you and notice what you can see, especially the face of the person giving you feedback. Tune out any unhelpful internal dialogue by tuning into exactly what the other person is saying.
2. Listen attentively
What is the person saying – and how are they saying it? Take careful note; literally writing it down if the feedback is detailed. Our defaults and biases may distort the feedback, so ensure you capture the exact words.
3. Be clear on the behaviour
If you’re not 100% clear on the feedback, or if your feedback giver is not as skilled as they could be, make sure you correctly understand what they say. Ask a few questions for clarification, such as “What did I say or do that prompted your feedback?” or “Can you tell me more?” so you can be clear of the behaviour that worked well (or didn’t). If you’re met with a flurry of adjectives – ‘proactive’, ‘dismissive’, ‘helpful’, etc. – you’ll need to ask a few more questions to draw out the actual behaviour, rather than subjective opinions, such as “what actions led you to think I was proactive? It would really help me to know.”
4. Identify the impact
Whatever the behaviour that prompted the feedback, you need to identify the impact. Again, a few brief questions will help both parties get a sense of proportion. Try “How did that [your behaviour] impact the situation?” or “What effect did/has that have?”
5. Suggest next steps
When feedback works well, it’s a conversation. To keep the positive momentum going (and show you’ve been listening), suggest next steps to respond to the feedback. For example, “How about I sum up at the end of the next meeting, so we all know who’s doing what?” or “Next time I’ll check back that I’ve captured all the client’s concerns and expectations.”
6. Thank your feedback giver
When feedback is delivered well – it’s clear, behavioural and a dialogue – it’s a gift that benefits both parties. Be sure to thank the person giving you feedback, even if it’s simply “Thanks, I’m really glad you’ve noticed that and it will really help me improve.”
7. Follow up
If you’ve said you’ll do something differently, do so and ask for feedback. Update the person who gave you feedback and tell them how it’s made a difference.
To find out more about my workshops on feedback at work, please get in touch.
You may find this post useful: ‘4 excuses for dodging feedback – and what to do instead’
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