Summer 2021
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CTDO Magazine

Open the Door to Feedback

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Build rapport with employees by welcoming their advice and critiques.

As a talent development leader, you’re often in the position to give feedback to others. But once you make it to the senior ranks, it’s easy to forget that others may need to give feedback to you—whether that’s 360-degree assessments, peers offering input on organizational initiatives, or direct reports commenting during team meetings.

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While there’s plenty of advice on how managers should give effective feedback so individuals can act on it and improve performance, there’s less guidance on what to do when you’re on the receiving side. Here are some reminders on how to accept opinions, advice, and criticism about your performance so that you build the trust and confidence of the people with whom you work.

Be available

Open your schedule for direct reports to meet with you. Don’t make them chase after you.

Provide frequent opportunities for them to connect. This can be particularly difficult when you work remotely and they can’t see whether your door is really open.

I have found that using my Outlook calendar is an excellent way for everyone to see when I’m free. I put everything on my calendar so they know when I’m busy. Further, answer calls and emails in the same way you would like a response—timely and consistently.

Source: Melissa Westmoreland, training and development leader with Georgia-Pacific Corporation and field editor for ATD Links

Ask for it

Feedback is as much about soliciting as it is about offering, with the aim of bringing information into a shared conversation. In fact, the most powerful action you can take is to seek more feedback, inviting those around you into a safe relationship that minimizes fear and allows trust to flourish.

Be the first to consistently ask for feedback. Not only will you show the way, but you’ll also garner these additional perks as a feedback seeker:

  • Model the path toward a culture of feedback and deliberate development by sharing your own vulnerabilities and growth needs.
  • Build and deepen trust when you seek and value others’ perspectives.
  • Kick-start an atmosphere of honest information sharing.
  • Demonstrate that personal development can be woven into the daily fabric of work.
  • Encourage healthy risk-taking.
  • Learn a lot about yourself, including your own strengths and the ways you can continue to grow and develop.
Source: M. Tamra Chandler, founder and CEO of PeopleFirm and author of Feedback (And Other Dirty Words)

Recognize the giver’s emotions

Sometimes feedback comes in messy packaging. Meaning, if people feel disappointed, angry, or distrustful, their words and delivery style can be emotionally loaded.

Try to avoid labeling another person’s tone as aggressive or disrespectful. Instead, listen curiously for the need that’s driving the emotion, and avoid defending your work.

Try to understand the complete picture, which won’t happen if you start judging, minimizing, or dismissing feedback. Also be sure to acknowledge what the other person is feeling. That can go a long way in building connection.

Source: Rebeqa Rivers, senior learning experience designer for Amazon

Separate the what from the who

If the feedback is on target and the advice is wise, it shouldn’t matter who delivers it. Yet, it does.

When a relationship trigger is activated, entwining the content of comments with your feelings about the giver (or about how, when, or where the individual delivered the comments), learning is short-circuited. To keep that from happening, work to separate the message from the messenger and then consider both.

Source: Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone, authors of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well

Evaluate it, slowly

Constructive criticism is an important ingredient for personal and professional development and for strengthening relationships. Whether that feedback is from your boss, a mentor, an executive coach, or even anonymous surveys, being receptive to it is essential.

But just as you shouldn’t summarily reject feedback, you shouldn’t automatically accept it either. Get in the practice of evaluating the feedback slowly. Chew on it for a day or more.

Does the criticism seem true? Is it something you already knew was a limitation? Does the giver have expertise or credibility to make their observation? Have other people said similar things to you?

Source: Kevin Kruse, founder and CEO of LEADx

Get clarification

Someone who fails to consider feedback is someone who cuts themself off from learning. But accepting feedback demonstrates that you are open to new ideas and willing to listen.

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Have a conversation about the feedback. Ask for specific examples so that you understand what the other person expects of you.

For example, if someone on your team says you need to communicate more concisely, ask the individual to give you an example of when you were not concise. You can even ask for tips or techniques to be clearer in delegating assignments.

Source: John Baldoni, executive coach and author of MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership and Lead Your Boss

Handle your emotions offline

If you do have an emotional reaction to something someone says, make sure you handle your reaction elsewhere. If you start to have a reaction in front of the person, say, “Wow, that’s surprising” or even “Wow, that hurts”—as long as you also thank the individual for their candor and tell them how much you appreciate it.

If they had the courage to tell you something hard to say or hear, give them gratitude. Your emotional reaction is yours to handle separately.

And make sure you handle it. Cry to your partner, scream in a pillow, or lift weights until your arms hurt. Get that response out to address any of the items of feedback with perspective and power.

Source: Maren Perry, president of Arden Coaching

Give thanks

Look the person in the eyes and thank them for sharing feedback with you. Don’t gloss over this—be deliberate, and say, “I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this with me.”

Expressing appreciation doesn’t have to mean you’re agreeing with the assessment. It shows that you’re acknowledging the effort your colleague took to evaluate you and share thoughts.

Source: Nicole Lindsay, career development expert and author of The MBA Slingshot for Women

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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