Feedback, as Marshall Goldsmith taught me, is a gift. And as such, we need to thank people when they deliver it to us.
Case in Point
This point came home to me the other day in a conversation with an entrepreneur who asked me to look at his website and offer suggestions. I noted a few things, for which he thanked me, and then he continued to probe, making our conversation very open-ended. So, when he asked me for any final thoughts, I complimented him on his openness to receiving feedback and his willingness to listen and consider what I had said.
Too often, people ask for feedback when all they really want is praise. A friend of mine who is a clinical professor of pediatrics in a major university made this point to me when we talked about giving feedback. All his students—medical residents in pediatrics—want feedback, but when the conversations becomes critical they shirk. It is almost as if these young doctors, all of whom have experienced great success academically, are not prepared to accept that anything could be possibly wrong, especially not with them. After all, their demeanor cries out, they are special.
Give and Receive
We coach managers to prepare the ground for giving feedback by opening with an affirmative before offering criticism. Managers need to be specific as well as constructive. That is, focus on specific behaviors, not nebulous notions like “attitude.”
Perhaps, we also need to teach managers to how to accept feedback so that they, in turn, can set the right example for how to receive it. Good managers I know do this when they invite their direct reports to deliver feedback. It can be dicey for a subordinate to deliver feedback, but savvy managers create conditions for employees to do so.
Indeed, there is much discussion on how to give feedback, but relatively little on how to accept it. That’s why Goldsmith’s advice to say thank you is so telling.
Good managers ask for feedback. More importantly, when they receive it, they smile and say thank you—even when it stings! So, for starters, here are few quick tips for how to accept feedback. Call it the ACT model: Accept, Clarify, and Thank!
Accept. This demonstrates that you are open to new ideas and willing to listen. Have a conversation about the feedback. Use open-ended questions to facilitate conversation.
Clarify. Ask for specific examples so that you understand what the other person expects of you. For example, if your boss says you need to communicate more concisely, ask him or her to give you an instance when you were not concise. You can even ask for tips or techniques to be more clear or more brief.
Thank. Consider the individual who delivers feedback as one who is taking time to help you. This may not always be true, but if you act open minded then you position yourself as a professional.Someone who fails to accept feedback is one who cuts him or herself off from learning. But not every piece of feedback is valid, and so the credibility of the person delivering it must be considered. If the feedback is coming from a trusted source—even if we don’t like that individual—it should be considered. If the feedback is valid, then the recipient should consider how it applies to them. Change may be warranted.