Part one of my two-part post on giving and getting feedback covered how to effectively provide feedback to your staff. But what about when the review shoe is on the other foot? How can you make sure that you are ready to receive the comments and critiques that are coming your way?

You might think you are prepared. After all, you’ve told your team you want honest comments and perspective so strategies can be improved and processes can be more effective. You’ve told your boss you are open to advice on how you can be more effective in your role at the company. You’ve told your co-workers that you would welcome any ideas they have on how you can function more productively.

You have said all that, but when they take you at your word and the negative comments and criticisms come flying at you from all angles, is your first reaction to respond defensively?

While that’s a normal response, it goes without saying that it’s not the best. No one is perfect and everyone can benefit from objective evaluations. That being said, it’s not easy when you’re not hearing some variation of “Your work is outstanding! Don’t change a thing!”

The first step on the feedback road is to shift how you view criticism and suggestions for improvement, especially if it comes from those below you on the corporate wrong. As Patrick Proctor pointed out in 5 Steps to Getting Better Employee Feedback (Even If You Hate It), “Your employees do not ‘win’ opportunities to meet with you. Instead, you are earning this right from them. You are in your leadership position to serve and support your team, not the other way around. Pursue and remain constant in your solicitation of their feedback.”

Since it can be a bit unpleasant although essential — somewhere along the lines of getting a dental cleaning to improve the health of your teeth — the temptation can be to put it off as long as possible and then do it as infrequently as you can. But Courtney Seiter recommends the opposite approach in The Art And Science Of Giving And Receiving Criticism At Work. “Ask for feedback often. The best strategy for being caught off guard by negative feedback? Make sure you invite feedback often, especially from those you trust. You’ll be better able to see any challenges ahead of time, and you’ll gain experience in responding positively to feedback.”

Here are some suggestions for how to effectively handle the feedback process.

Listen objectively, not emotionally

It’s normal to get defensive, frightened or angry when someone is telling you that, in one way or another, you aren’t getting an A+ score. But take a deep breath and remind yourself that, as 10 Tips for Giving and Receiving Feedback Effectively by The Baird Group points out, is “simply feedback—useful information that can provide you with new insights or understandings about how you or your behaviors are perceived by others. You are always in control of your own response so you get to choose whether you are going to respond emotionally, defensively, or whether you will focus on the feedback as useful, character-building information.”

Ask for details and explanations

This isn’t about disputing what you have heard but ensuring that what you took in was what the other person meant to deliver. Ask for specifics:

  • What exactly did you do wrong or fail to do at all?
  • What were the expectations you didn’t meet?
  • Is this a performance, attitude or communication issue?
  • What needs to change to address the problem?

Make it clear that the better you understand where you missed the mark, the easier it will be for you to get a bullseye next time.

Make it clear that you want feedback

How? By asking for it, not only from those above you but also those below. In the latter case, says Steffen Maier in How to give constructive feedback to colleagues, this shows “that you’re open to constructive advice and value their opinion, putting you on an equal footing. Ask specific questions about your performance to show you really want to hear from them.”

Requesting advice and criticism also underlines your commitment to self-improvement and professional development, according to Receiving constructive feedback from colleagues and managers — Feedback Tips for Employees, Managers and HR. “Maybe you feel you want more responsibility, or to aim for a higher position, but aren’t sure what steps you should be taking to prove you can take on more. Feedback can be used as a strategy to achieve these goals.”

In 4 Ways to Get Truly Honest Feedback From Employees, Andre Lavoie pointed out an approach used by Motley Fool that made it easier for employees to offer feedback to higher-ups. “Instead of having employees report to their boss when it comes time to give or take feedback, they encourage employees to choose from a list of designated ‘feedback coaches.’ These coaches are well-versed in handling employee feedback and, most important, take some of the fear out of the review process. Designating a select few to handle employee grievances could be the key to eliciting honest, constructive feedback on everything from management issues to business solutions.”

If you suspect that, rightly or wrongly, your people are afraid to do anything more than praise your decisions and performance, even to an internal feedback coach, consider bringing in an outside consultant to serve as the middleman. As a neutral third party, the consultant meets with the staff to discuss the issues, reviews them with you, and then can help formulate a way not only to fix the problems but also address the underlying distrust issue.

Schedule either a one-on-one or a group session.

One-on-one is preferred when it’s your boss or co-workers giving you feedback. But when you want input from your staff, a group sit-down is a good way to elicit input. Make it an informal and friendly setting: for example, buy your team lunch and sit around the table, chatting while eating.

Open the floor by saying that you believe there are ways the company can be improved and you know that it starts at the top. Stress that you want this to be an opportunity for everyone to offer ideas on how to make things better as well as identify roadblocks that are slowing things down. You can even suggest something that you have identified (in your own process, not theirs—this isn’t their feedback time, but yours) that could be an issue and how you plan to fix it.

Then sit back and listen. This should be more in the nature of discussion, with ideas and suggestions for how to address what isn’t working. Again, don’t be defensive. Even if someone recommends discarding a process that you had put in place in favor of a new and improved strategy, allow for the possibility that it might be worth exploring. (Repeat to yourself: “Change is good. It’s nothing personal.”)

Or you can try the strategy used by marketing agency Quirk, as explained by Lavoie. “Quirk created a public process — in the form of a flow chart on the office wall — that allows anyone in the company to suggest ideas, gather support for those ideas (through signatures) and potentially have them implemented.”

Receive, process and reflect.

Start by taking in what you’re hearing, writing it down rather than relying on your memory. Then, process it objectively, identifying what you have been told against your own interpretations of the issues or behaviors.

Then reflect: is this the first time that problem has cropped up or have others, either inside the company or outside, said something similar? It may be a pattern — interrupting people or taking over — that is so ingrained that you aren’t aware of it. But now that you have reflected, you can start paying attention to it — the first step to making a change.

As Seiter wrote, you must cultivate “a growth mindset. While some of us have a hard time hearing negative feedback, there are those who thrive on it. This group has what’s known as a growth mindset. They focus on their ability to change and grow–as opposed to those with a fixed mindset–and are able to see feedback as an opportunity for improvement.”

Develop a game plan

Once you’ve determined what needs to change, it’s time for a game plan. This may be procedural — altering processes that are more a hindrance than a help — or personal — controlling those responses or behaviors that are causing problems for the rest of your people. If it’s a process-oriented change you’re making, get feedback from those involved as to how to implement it. And once it’s deemed road-worthy, so to speak, acknowledge those who have provided the suggestions or recommendations. This will encourage others to offer their own ideas.

“In the end,” said Lavoie, “how employers elicit employee feedback is irrelevant if they don’t follow up with employees. When it comes to giving employers constructive feedback, the greatest motivator is to show employees their feedback is being considered or, better yet, applied. Employers can bet that once an employee has taken the time to give their opinion on a matter, they’ll be watching to see if their opinion is truly valued.”


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