by Leon Rosenshein

Getting Feedback

It’s feedback season again. There’s lots of advice on how and when to give feedback. The internet is full of it. What you don’t see so much of, and what’s about to become very relevant, is how to receive feedback. Like any other communication, regardless of how the message is sent, if it's not received there’s no information transfer.

So what can you do as the receiver of feedback? What is your role in the process? There are some simple things you can do to make getting feedback as effective as possible. And it doesn’t matter if you’re getting the feedback from a manager, peer, subordinate, or someone you only had incidental contact with.

First and most important, listen. Hear what the feedback is. Make sure you understand what is being said. Take notes. Ask clarifying questions if needed. It doesn’t matter if you think the person giving the feedback misunderstood or misheard or is wrong. Your job as the receiver is to get the information being delivered. That means you don’t control the conversation. Not the timing, and not the direction. Don’t put words in their mouths. You can ask clarifying questions, but not leading questions. 

Second, don’t defend yourself or your action(s). This isn’t the time for that. Just take it in. Write it down. It goes back to listening first. Again, clarifying questions can be ok, but asking the giver to look at it from a different angle or asking if some new information changes their opinion deflects from what they’re trying to say.

Third, look for trends. Did you hear the feedback once, in a specific situation, from one person multiple times, or from many people over many instances? Is it something you only hear at work, or is it something you’ve heard in multiple contexts?

Fourth, don’t make instant promises. Unless the feedback is simple, like “I prefer to be called Tim rather than Timothy.” You’ll need to think about what was said, when and how often the situation arises, what you can do, and what you should do. The time to do that is not when you're supposed to be listening to the other person.

And finally, say thanks. The giver put themselves out there. Especially if it’s a subordinate or junior. They did their part and deserve thanks.

Of course, after you get the feedback comes the hard part. Interpreting it, understanding it, and making changes.