Happy Valentine's or Galentine's day if you celebrate.
With the annual review season in full swing, I’ve been coaching my clients on everything feedback- how to prep for a review conversation and deliver and receive feedback effectively. What I’ve noticed is that there are a lot of fears and hesitation around the subject of feedback, which then inspired me to write this post. But before we jump into the details, let’s first define feedback and why it’s important.
The importance of feedback
According to the merriam webster dictionary, the primary definition of feedback is: “the transmission of evaluative or corrective information about an action, event, or process to the original or controlling source.”
Feedback is a must-have ingredient for any person’s growth journey and essential for professional development. Without feedback, it is like driving a car without mirrors on a foggy road. You will get to the destination, but not after hitting some serious delays.
There was a time when I feared and loathed receiving and giving feedback. Now as a seasoned professional and entrepreneur, I see feedback as valuable as gold and the best gift one can get.
So what is getting in the way of too many professionals being more open to feedback? Let’s explore this next.
What gets in the way? Emotions and Trauma
As someone who used to dread feedback, I know from personal experience how difficult it is to receive it. Through reviewing material and coaching others about this issue, I have concluded that emotions and trauma are the two main reasons why we are so averse to receiving this precious commodity.
Let me address the trauma first. Unfortunately, most of the time, our first encounter with feedback is not a pleasant one. Whether at home, school, school, or your first professional experience, chances are you were scarred and/or hurt from the experience. Therefore, it’s completely logical that our amygdala kicks into action, taking over when we walk into feedback conversations. As a result, for many, the reaction when receiving feedback is either to avoid, freeze or get defensive. This very human response to re-living trauma is the leading block for many of us to be able to see feedback in a positive light.
Secondly, let’s admit that feedback is an emotional conversation because it is closely attached to our sense of worth and identity. We do not like feedback because, deep down, we fear hearing confirmation that we are not worth what we think we are or that we are not good enough. After all, companies do use the annual performance review to determine your next career title and financial incentive. Titles and money are two main ways we humans compare each other, so it makes perfect sense! And if you are an entrepreneur, receiving feedback might be difficult because you worked so hard to build a product or some offering; receiving constructive feedback might feel like someone calling your baby ugly or simply questioning your expertise- again, it feels personal. But it does not have to be.
Here is what I like to invite you to think when approaching feedback: Just because you had a bad experience in the past, it does not have to be the case going forward. Detach yourself from the outcome and listen objectively for nuggets of information that might be helpful.
When receiving feedback, you have a choice. You can either continue ignoring your blind spots or embrace them as pieces of information to reach your goals. The more feedback you receive (both positive and constructive), the clearer the path will get. If you become defensive or shut down when people try to approach you, you are more likely to miss out on valuable information for your journey. In other words, your resistance to receiving feedback, although understandable, is your own resistance to achieving the greatness you seek.
Your resistance to receiving feedback, although understandable, is your own resistance to achieving the greatness you seek.
So how can you change that?
Use Humility and Curiosity as Keys to Receiving Feedback.
In other situations, I have been a great detractor of humility mainly because too much emphasis on humility has held back many professionals from underrepresented backgrounds. However, this is the one instance where I will advocate for embracing humility before you go into a feedback/ performance review conversation where you will be on the receiving end.
Prepare to receive feedback as much as you would prepare to give it. Here are my top tips to help you prepare to receive any and all feedback:
Make a plan for what you’d like to cover. Especially write down your achievements and areas of improvement that you know might come up.
Before the conversation, take some solo time to acknowledge what is happening.
Address your fears head-on. Ideally, try to unpack your fears with a mentor or coach.
Prepare for positive and negative feedback. Be open and ready to receive any and all feedback but decide what strategy you like to adopt if your emotions are getting the best of you.
As difficult as it can be, avoid getting defensive with negative feedback. This is an opportunity to learn, so try to adopt an attitude of humility and curiosity.
Ask clarifying questions. Managers are as nervous as you or do not know how to give effective feedback, so be ready to clarify with open-ended questions that start with what or how- stir away from WHY questions!
Take notes of positive and negative feedback. We have a negativity bias and tend to remember only the negative; notes will help you stay grounded in what was discussed after that fact.
Finally, take what you need and leave the rest.
Sometimes we receive feedback that does not add up or is so random that, at first, it does not make sense. In these instances, you need to ask as many clarifying questions as possible, with a follow-up or on the spot. Take a deep breath, calm down, take what you need, say thank you, and walk away. Later you can decide what you like to do with this information. If you want to dig further, ask others that work with you for their feedback to see if there are trends that align or if a previous boss can help you verify.
Lead with your values and intentions when providing feedback.
As a leader, learning to deliver feedback and receive it is a superpower. Those who learn to master these two behaviors will be more effective leaders. Having better skills at this powerful practice will also positively impact your team, promote trust and help with retention.
If you are preparing to give performance reviews to your team, use these tips to help you be more effective:
Prepare for a conversation. Write down what you’ll say, especially how you like to address difficult or constructive feedback.
Enter the conversation by explaining your intention of helping the other party grow.
Remember your values as a leader. They can be a great source of courage when needed.
Remember why feedback is essential for your directs. I always encourage leaders that part of what we do as leaders is to help others grow.
Stick to facts and keep it objective- the SBI framework for giving feedback is the best.
Prepare yourself for both positive and negative reactions.
Think about how you will move the conversation forward
Offer support for growth and development. Either by offering resources or guidance, leave that door open.
To conclude this article, whether you are on the receiving or giving end of feedback, the one thing that becomes clear is that not embracing feedback can only sabotage your career prospects and delay your success. Remember to approach feedback objectively with a learning lens. And if you need help- I’m happy to be your guide. You can contact me here.