The Skill of Receiving Feedback

Receiving Feedback

A young, eager employee sits for his first performance review.  He beams as his manager lists off accomplishments. Lingering on every word, he soaks in the praise until… an inevitable pause.  The manager shuffles in his seat. Avoiding direct eye contact, he starts to read “suggestions for improvement.”  The employee scribbles notes, shoulders tightening, his sense of self-worth deflating to the cadence of the manager’s voice. “This is all meant to help you,” the manager says. “Like I said before: overall, you’re doing great.”

The employee heard everything his manager said, but the only feedback he received was the suggestions.

What could have gone differently? Some say the manager’s presentation.  Maybe.  For tips on how to give feedback, please visit Artemis’s article “Three Ways to Tailor Feedback for Optimal Performance.” But since employees cannot control how managers deliver feedback, the only thing that could have gone differently is how the feedback was received.

In her TED Talk, expert Sheila Heen, coauthor of Difficult Conversations, describes receiving feedback a skill that employees can develop.  This skill can lead to better manager relationships and the realization of career goals.

Skill Tip #1: Do Not Receive Feedback Personally

It is human nature to rationalize constructive feedback the moment we receive it. We say negative things about the person giving the feedback and what THEIR motivation is.  We try to defend ourselves and give excuses for why things did not go perfectly.

We turn constructive feedback away to protect ourselves because we know that we let ourselves down in some way.  Also, if we choose to accept the criticism, this means we must DO something about it, and that takes work.

Can you even imagine a scenario where an employee is perfect the first time?  Feedback is necessary to enhance performance.  But it’s hard to separate the person from the performance.

The way an employee reacts to feedback speaks volumes to a manager.  Instead of being defensive, employees should seek to understand with emotional control. Assume that your manager is offering you feedback with positive intent. “When someone is offering their time to give you an insight into your work, active listening is crucial to show your respect, as well as to understand and absorb the information they are offering,” says Riley Steinbach of Pavestep.  Do not let feedback ruin an important manager/employee relationship.

Skill Tip #2: Receive Feedback with a Growth Mindset

Psychologist Carol Dweck defines growth mindset as “an understanding that abilities and understanding can be developed” (Mindset Works, n.d.). This means that a person believes he is always able to do better, be smarter, and grow by putting in effort.  This is in opposition to a fixed mindset, where one believes he “either has it or does not.”

Employees who walk into a feedback situation with a growth mindset are ones who want to know how to grow because they believe in their own ability to grow.

If a manager asks to share her thoughts on your presentation, you should enter into it knowing that critique can help you meet larger career goals. “Any piece of feedback your manager gives you can only help you move toward or away from that goal,” says Chris Weller of the Neuroleadership Institute. “You may not necessarily agree with everything she says, but at least your mind will be open and receptive to her input. With fixed mindset thinking, we typically shut down immediately because we’re too afraid of hearing bad news.”

Skill Tip #3: Accept and Implement Feedback

Feedback is ONLY actionable if employees are willing to implement it. The employee has the complete power to choose to act on feedback.

Employees must agree with feedback through honest conversation.  Suggestions should not be given in isolation.  Look at skill growth over time and reflect on improvement.  For instance, if a manager suggested you speak louder and slower during a presentation, follow up on that suggestion at a later date.

Directly ask for feedback often.  This shows managers you are always seeking to improve.  Think about giving yourself feedback and saying something like, “I feel like I did better with pacing during this last presentation.  Was I loud enough?”  Reflecting on your feedback and deciding what steps to take is the ultimate goal.

Always show appreciation for feedback. Giving feedback can be just as difficult as receiving it.

At Artemis Consultants, we care about how employees receive growth-producing feedback. Accepting feedback related to a job search is a skill that our recruiters can help develop.

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