When Feedback is Hard to Hear: Part 2

When Feedback is Hard to Hear: Part 2

It’s never a good time to hear hard things about your leadership.
It can take you by surprise.
It can sting too, like an unexpected tetanus shot at a routine medical checkup.

The feedback I recently received from a collegue stung a great deal.
“I don’t feel like you trust me.”
“I don’t think you really want to hear what we think.”

Hearing these critiques, my instinct was to defend myself.
“That can’t be true.”
“Of course I trust you.”
“This person is stuck somehow.”

But I didn’t say those things.
I took a deep breath.
I looked confused.
I stood perplexed.
Perhaps uncharacteristically, I responded, “Tell me more. I want to understand.”

Then I listened.
As it turns out, this was the best move I could’ve possibly made. If nothing else, my questioning put me in a position to learn. I have lots to learn about myself, about leadership, and about getting the most out of others.

With a little more time, and the motivation to become a more effective leader, I turned to the advice of others. I found quality resources on the topic and devoured them. Allow me to share some highlights from this insightful and timely text:

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


1. If we are serious about our own development and growth, we can’t wait around for perfectly delivered feedback. In fact, the majority of our learning is going to have to come from, “…people who are doing their best but may not know better, who are too busy to give us the time we need, who are difficult themselves, or who are just plain lousy at giving feedback or coaching” (18).

2. Receiving feedback well doesn’t mean we always have to take the feedback.  Instead, it means engaging fully in the conversation, navigating it skillfully, and being thoughtful about whether and how to use the feedback for our growth (20).

3. When feedback is difficult, give yourself a second score for how you handle the first score. It’s easy to get discouraged when we hear about our own shortcomings. Giving ourselves a “score” for how we handle the critique, helps us stay focused on the present.  “While the initial evaluation may not be fully within your control, your reaction to it usually is” (181).

4. Separate the different strands of feedback. What do you feel?  What is the story you are telling yourself?  What is the actual feedback?  Those three things are different.  It’s important to tease them out.

5. Nothing affects the learning culture of an organization more than the skill with which its executive team receives feedback.  “If you seek out coaching, your direct reports will seek out coaching. If you take responsibility for your mistakes, your peers will be encouraged to fess up as well; if you try out a suggestion from a coworker, they will be more open to trying out your suggestions” (21).

6. Tweetable: “Is it possible that feedback is like a gift and like a colonoscopy?

I still have more to learn on this topic.  Stay tuned for part 3…

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