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How you can get better at accepting feedback

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How you can get better at accepting feedback

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There’s an awful lot written and said about the important role of feedback in a social business, and indeed it’s a topic I’ve written about a lot on this blog.  This level of importance has of course prompted a lot of soul searching on the best way to deliver feedback.  Significantly less attention is devoted to the other side of the coin – how to actually receive feedback.

After all, the best feedback in the world is no use if the recipient isn’t willing or able to take on board what was said and modify their behaviours accordingly.  It is ultimately the responsibility of the receiver for determining whether feedback is successful or not.

It is perhaps understandable that receiving feedback causes us such consternation.  On the one hand, we do mostly want to improve and get better at things, but we also quite like being accepted for who we are right now, rather than who we might be with a few tweaks around the edges.  As a result, feedback can often provoke an emotional response.

As with most things, the first step in improving how you receive feedback is to understand this dilemma that you face when receiving it.  Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone have identified three triggers that prompt a negative reaction to feedback:

  1. The truth trigger is fired due to the content of the feedback, and your inherent disagreement with it.
  2. The relationship trigger goes off when the person giving you the feedback matters as much as the actual feedback itself.  Maybe they lack the credibility to tell you what is wrong, or maybe you feel that you’ve built up enough credit with them to have earned some slack.
  3. The final trigger is all around identity and is fired when the feedback hits at the core of who you are as a person.

Most of these triggers are perfectly natural, so once you’ve understood that you have them, you can begin working to overcome them.  Heen and Stone go on to identify some ways you can do this and begin to get better at receiving feedback.

The first of which involves a degree of self-awareness.  They suggest that given the long history many of us have with receiving feedback, we should by now be reasonably proficient at understanding how we react to it.

They also recommend trying to detach what was said from who actually said it.  They suggest that if the feedback is indeed accurate, then who gave it should be irrelevant to you.  As the triggers above suggest, this is not always easy, but it’s a good process to try and get into.

It is also important to understand what kind of feedback you’re getting.  Some feedback just tells you what is what.  Others will attempt to provide some coaching alongside their evaluation of you.  Both are important types of feedback, but it’s not always easy to distinguish between the two.

Arguably the most important part of the process however is to be open and receptive to feedback.  If you actively seek it out then you are much less likely to be offended by any that is sent your way.  With this in mind, it’s also recommended that you are as focused as possible with your requests.  Heen and Stone suggest asking for feedback in one particular area at a time.  What’s more, research has shown that if you actively look for feedback, you tend to get better performance appraisals by your bosses, both for being proactive, but also for the improvements that will hopefully result in your performance.

If you want to grow as a person, then being able to accept and respond to negative feedback is going to be crucial.  It’s clear that you can’t control the quality of feedback you might receive, but the above tips are all things you can control, both in your attitude towards feedback and your approach to collecting it.

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