As a leader, have you been trained to give constructive feedback to your team? 

Are you an expert at giving “sandwich feedback”, or starting with a supportive comment, squeezing in a constructive criticism, then adding a supportive comment to conclude? Some experts recommend a ratio of eight supportive comments to one negative comment when giving feedback. That’s a tall order. Evidently, giving feedback well is a leadership skill critical to your professional working relationships.

What if the shoe is on the other foot, and you are on the receiving end of feedback?   

Do you actually welcome feedback? Do you have strategies to sift good feedback from the bad? Are you willing to make feedback your friend?  Can you give yourself permission to ignore illegitimate feedback? How do you manage the emotions attached to negative feedback, so you can find that grain of truth? Is the ability to receive feedback well also a critical leadership skill? Of course!

As a leader, you receive countless messages daily. 

How does all this feedback affect your thinking, emotions, and behavior? Offhand comments, social media clicks, formal reviews, unsolicited criticism, and survey results come into your world. Advice from colleagues, messages from clients, input from anonymous sources, and remarks from your team come in. As your coach, my goal is to help you raise your awareness about receiving feedback and challenge you to filter and use feedback to your advantage. Keep in mind two legitimate needs you are balancing: your desire to change and improve as a leader, and your desire to know you are validated for who you are and respected for your current contributions.

Try This Now

Before we jump in, think of a specific workplace situation where you receive feedback. Perhaps it’s a regular meeting with your boss, a board meeting, a team check-in, or a performance review. Next, think of a colleague who regularly gives you feedback. Get specific. Can you see yourself in the scenario at work where you are receiving feedback? Do you have that specific colleague’s face in mind? 

Three Triggers

What makes receiving feedback difficult at times?  As Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen highlight in their New York Times bestseller, “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well”, we need to pay attention to our feedback tendencies. Do you recognize a trigger that’s primed for you? Raising awareness about your triggers can help you disarm them. 

Truth Trigger

The content of the feedback seems untrue, unhelpful or completely off-base. Your immediate thoughts or emotions can be indignation, feeling wronged or exasperation. These thoughts or emotions may lead to you discounting the entirety of the feedback.

Relationship Trigger

Your perception of the person giving the feedback is affected by what you believe about the person. You may feel the person is not credible, wise, or connected with you enough to give you quality feedback. You may feel dismissive or irritated. These thoughts or emotions can get in the way of you receiving feedback well.

Identity Trigger

If the feedback challenges your ideas about yourself, you may feel overwhelmed or off balance. If you feel the feedback challenges you at the core of who you are, you may feel defensive and unable to sift through the feedback to find even a little kernel of truth.

Can You Say “No” to Feedback?

You can! Healthy use of feedback includes the ability to make boundaries around if and how you will receive feedback. When is it time to consider limiting or refusing feedback? Consider these warning signs: the individual giving you feedback is attacking your character, not your behavior.  Or, the feedback is unrelenting, never satisfied, or threatening. You can say “no” to feedback in a variety of ways. Which of these “statement strategies” will work for your situation or your colleague, if necessary?

  • “I may not take your advice, even if you give it to me.”
  • “I don’t want your feedback on that subject, not right now.”
  • “Stop, or I will terminate this communication, meeting, or project.”

Three Feedback Strategies

The secret to making feedback your friend is being prepared and willing to engage your feedback situations differently. Simple is better. Below are three strategies to employ. Which resonates with you in your situation?

Ask for One Thing

Initiate and ask your team or boss for feedback. Make your request bite-sized; ask for just one thing. Request one thing they see you doing that is exceptional, or one thing they see you doing that is holding you back. Request one thing they think you can work on to become a better leader. Ask for one thing that matters most to them. If you solicit feedback from several people using the same question, you may hear themes to their responses. Soliciting feedback communicates a leader who humility, confidence, and willingness to change.

Engage in Small Experiments

Test the feedback you receive. If you believe most of the feedback is valid, and the person is trustworthy, try implementing the suggestions a little at a time. You want to pull the value from the feedback you receive and strengthen your self-concept simultaneously. Take a small portion of the feedback you receive and engage with what you think is true and manageable. Rather than trying to sort through a great deal of feedback not knowing what parts are actually valid, take a small part and construct an experiment to see what you think about the results. “Try it on” for a short period of time, and if it doesn’t fit “take it off”.

Invite Them In

Consider letting someone “in” to help you implement the feedback you receive. Do you need help from another person in order to change? What would that look like for you? Use a person outside your organization to help you work with the feedback you are attempting to utilize inside your organization. Choose someone with capacity, and someone you trust to share their impressions with you about how you are doing receiving and using feedback. Working with an Executive Coach puts a professional in your corner who will challenge and support you through this growth process.

Be Ready

You can raise your awareness of the types of feedback you receive and better adapt your responses to that feedback. Remember, you have the desire to learn, grow and change and the desire to be accepted, affirmed and appreciated. Embrace both of those needs. Don’t let your truth, relationship, or identity triggers distract you. More awareness about your triggers can help you disarm them. Make a plan to say “no” to certain feedback you’ve deemed not appropriate or not timely. Don’t let a situation or person bring feedback into your world if it doesn’t promote growth. Personalize a feedback strategy that fits you and be ready to make feedback your friend!

For further insights, read the New York Times Bestseller, “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well”, by Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen.

Wendy McWherter, ACC is a credentialed Executive Coach with the International Coach Federation. She is the founder of McWherter Coaching Group LLC, which provides leaders with professional executive coaching services. Contact Wendy at wendy@mcwherter.com, or http://www.mcwhertercoaching.com.