Feedback, in general, provides input that proves to be a great asset when it comes to helping us understand and either continue or alter the ways in which we tend to do things or have done them in the past. Regardless of it being of a positive or negative nature, to the extent we remain open to it, we stand to benefit. We can use given feedback to continue or alter an approach to something or someone that can help our growth in both performance and relationships.
Providing such feedback in a business entity is a contributor to the overall individual and collective success. Receiving positive feedback is of no challenge. Finding ways and words to tell someone that they are doing a good job of any nature is easy. In fact, those providing it are anxious to be able to provide that and the positive results further build a person’s confidence in themselves. It also builds and encourages a culture in which employees nurture and support one another.
However, giving negative feedback is not so easy. As such it’s easy to put off this type of challenging conversation. And when it is provided and with a desire to lessen the blow, the words used are such that the key message is not clearly addressed. If this happens and the issue isn’t understood, the problem potentially compounds and one can often find themselves dealing with a much bigger situation.
Here are some suggested ways that one can provide feedback and have it accepted in the positive way it is intended and do so without anxiety often associated with it:
- Act immediately
Feedback is best if it is given shortly after the event or behavior has been observed. This applies to improvement seeking change or improvement and applies to positive reinforcement. For it to be meaningful and impactful, providing it frequently makes it productive.
- Pick the right time and to provide the feedback
Determining how serious the matter will determine if this is provided via a formal meeting or it can be an informal chat in the lunchroom. Wherever it is provided, making it private will allow for open and honest conversation between the two involved without being overheard.
- Clarity requires being specific with examples
To have the desired outcome, input should be truly clear and specific of things seen or observed. This applies to feedback of both a positive and growth nature. Making suggestions of how something could have been handled better is valuable. Also helping a person understand the impact of their actions on others aids their understanding.
- Using positive language in the overall conversation enhances reception of it
The goal of providing feedback is to have it heard and a willingness to receive it and act upon it. While one is addressing some negative action that had detrimental impact on something or someone, words matter. The goal is to be heard and understood and this can be accomplished by the words used to describe the issue. Making certain to follow up the reported issue with positive suggestions as to how it can be successfully managed enhances the reception of it.
Giving feedback is one side of the equation to be considered for success. However, there is also the challenge of those receiving and accepting constructive criticism at work. Mark Travers, an established psychologist contributed an article in a recent edition of Forbes. I believe his points are clear and on target. As he indicates, nobody enjoys being told they need to improve. It can be difficult to hear that, despite your best efforts, your performance at work is not where it needs to be. In addition to feeling demoralized and hurt, it often makes us feel angry with the person giving the feedback.
While all of this is understandable (and normal), what sets a true professional apart is their ability to recognize and value feedback as an essential part of career growth. In fact, some of the most successful employees don’t just gracefully handle constructive criticism, they thrive on it. Crucially, they understand the positive subtext behind feedback — someone is paying close attention to their work and wants to see them improve.
Here are two ways that Travers believes we can use negative feedback as career rocket fuel. He provides two meaningful tips to enable recipients to get better at accepting this for the value it represents as a way for each of us to develop and grow.
I. Reframe your attitude toward feedback
To the extent we are willing to seek feedback and act on it we are more likely to …
- Find meaning in what we do
- Feel competent at the tasks we perform
- Find the needed motivation to excel at work
In contrast, to the extent we think of feedback as an unavoidable and high-pressure event, we can enter a vicious cycle that can hold us back. If people lack the ability to hear constructive criticism often struggle to find meaning in what they do. They feel less competent at work after the feedback and lose motivation to improve.
Reframing one’s attitude toward feedback is enhanced when one understands why it’s necessary. Travers provides three he considers as obvious.
- It offers a window into one’s strengths and weaknesses
- It offers an opportunity to show peers or bosses that you are of a growth mindset
- It offers a chance for one to be objective and do self-evaluation
II. Understand your emotional response to feedback and then rise above it
The mistake many of us make when receiving feedback is that we only take away the emotional experience of receiving it. No matter where we are in the corporate structure, we all seek approval from our peers and bosses. Hearing that we are not performing well enough can trigger a state of low self-worth and compromised safety. What follows is a mixed bag of negative emotions such as embarrassment, shame, hurt, and shock.
While many of us can get stuck in this mental state for prolonged periods of time, a true professional understands that the emotional reaction is not the intended effect of the feedback session. They begin processing the feedback that was provided in a pragmatic manner. Here is a step-by-step breakdown of how to deal with feedback gracefully as suggested by Travers:
- Listen to the feedback but detach yourself from the work.Try to imagine that the feedback is being given to someone who isn’t you. While it may be hard at first, over time, detaching yourself from your work performance will come more naturally.
- Quietly evaluate the validity of the feedback.Feedback is often based on somebody else’s subjective experience of your performance. If you disagree, make note of it so that you can understand why they felt the way they did, preferably after the feedback session when it is no longer a heat-of-the-moment reaction. If you agree with the feedback, make a note of that too. In either case, you will learn something about how your work is perceived.
- Reiterate the points brought up during the feedback session.This is an effective way to consolidate the core message of the feedback and goes a long way in making the person providing the feedback feel heard and understood. This will, in turn, show them that you are receptive to coaching.
- Ask for some time to mull over the core message of the feedback.This is when you can rationally and calmly unpack the talking points of the feedback session and formulate a plan to improve yourself in areas you might be lacking.
- Request a post-feedback meeting.In addition to providing an opportunity for you to respond to any points you may have felt were inaccurate, take this time to communicate your plan to improve. This way, you hold yourself accountable to yourself and to the person who provided the feedback.
Receiving negative feedback is an essential skill for personal growth. However, it can be difficult to accept and manage in practice due to its critical nature. By staying focused on the facts rather than getting caught up in the emotions associated with criticism, we can learn how to take feedback constructively and use it as an opportunity for self-improvement rather than letting it bring us down. With practice, learning how to receive negative feedback with grace will become second nature.
Like all things, practice makes perfect when it comes to providing or receiving feedback. Feedback should be spontaneous and regular. Constructive feedback is one of the best things managers can provide to their employees. When delivered properly it can reinforce positive behavior, correct any negative performance and ensure a strong culture remains in your team. Take the challenge of delivering and receiving feedback. It can only get better.
2 Tips to get better at accepting constructive criticism at work. Forbes: Author Mark Travers