Getting feedback is vital in anything we do; whether it’s work, hobbies or our relationships, it’s important for us to hear from others how they perceive our actions, and what steps we can take to improve our performance. It can also offer excellent insight into how our behaviour impacts others, information we could never accurately obtain from self-reflection.
Of course, whether we decide to act upon it or trust its worth is a different matter, but unless you have the information you can’t proactively make that choice, and you consequently limit your potential for growth. Seeking out feedback is therefore a positive, constructive step to take, however that’s not to say it’s an easy one. But, as with everything, the more you do it, the easier it will become, and the better you prepare for it, the less intimidating it will be. So to help get you into the ‘feedback zone’ we’ve come up with a few tips on how to approach feedback, and how to get the most from it.
1. Ask for it – Whether there’s a certain issue you want to address, or you just want to get an overview of your performance then set up a time to discuss it, but don’t just rely on your manager to give you feedback. Your colleagues and peers are a vital source of information, especially if you work closely with them on a frequent basis. Asking different people will ensure you get a complete picture of your performance from all relevant parties, making the feedback much more useful. When it comes to actually getting the information you may want to ask some specific questions, or leave the floor open to your manager/colleague and go from there. There are many tools you can use to gather feedback, from surveys to one-to-one conversations. (Tip: if you’re a manager, you could make feedback a team activity using a psychometric tool such as Lumia Spark).
2. Step back – A vital step in the feedback process is not to react, at least not initially, and especially if you are being given a less than positive evaluation. It’s very tempting to respond to every comment with a defense or explanation, but this will stem the flow of feedback, and may influence what your observer says next. If you want real and honest feedback, let it be given and don’t engage with it until you’ve heard it all.
3. Listen – Another essential part of the process is really listening to what is being said, although this is much easier said than done. It’s common to get lost in our own thoughts and responses when someone gives us information, especially when it’s about us. But if you actively listen to what is being said, it makes it much easier to pick out the information you need in order to instigate change in the future. You may want to record the session or make notes if you’re wary of forgetting pertinent points.
4. Ask questions – But don’t get defensive. If someone is giving you feedback you don’t agree with (or even if you do), ask for specific examples or why they feel that way, but resist the temptation to defend yourself or become aggressive. Remember that you don’t have to agree with the information, but by asking questions you create greater clarity around the issue, allowing you to later decide if the feedback is just or not.
5. Ask for help on improving – If you receive negative feedback on a specific issue, then ask for help on how to improve. You may be able to get support from the individual giving the feedback, or you may have to seek support from someone with specific expertise. But if you can identify the problem, you can then ask for help on how to address it.
6. Reflect on it – Take time to reflect on the information you have been given, and not just immediately after the discussion; try and keep the observations in mind as you progress forward in your career. This will likely be easier to do with the aspects you agree with, however try and keep those you don’t agree with in mind too, as perhaps you’ll find you recognise some truth in them in the future.
7. Identify opportunities for learning – Once you’ve had the chance to reflect on your discussion, consider how the feedback you received offers chances for personal and professional development. Set yourself goals and ambitions related to the feedback and use it as a platform for future growth.
8. Notice when it happens informally – While formal feedback is hugely important, don’t dismiss the information you get on a daily basis. It may be a simple ‘good job’ comment from a colleague, or an inquisitive ‘why did you do that?’ from your manager. If you keep your ears, mind and eyes open, there will undoubtedly be opportunities to get feedback every day.
9. Learn to give it – One way to help feedback become less intimidating and more effective is to learn to give it yourself. When you understand the process from the other side and can genuinely appreciate the importance of giving honest and supportive feedback, it can help change your perspective on the issue, allowing you to become much more open to receiving it yourself.
10. Get help – For some people seeking and accepting feedback is easier than for others, and if you are finding yourself struggling to really engage with the process, and make the most of the information you’re being given, then seeking help from a coach could be extremely helpful. By working with a coach, you will have access to targeted support from an impartial party who can help you address any issues you are facing. It gives you a sounding board where you can take feedback and discuss it safely while getting support in how to manage it and use it to grow moving forward.
Getting and using feedback effectively really can make a huge difference to our performance both at work, and in our personal lives. Sometimes it takes someone outside of ourselves to help us recognise what we are great at and what we need to improve on, and if you can learn to use this information productively, the potential for growth is limitless. Of course the caveat to this is to remember that just because someone else does something differently to you it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. While seeking feedback is important, don’t take the advice and observations of others as gospel. Use the information, reflect on it, make your decision and do what feels right for you.