Soft Skills: Receiving Feedback

In the workplace and life in general, receiving feedback and criticism is a difficult thing. In the last entry of our core series we discussed strategies to improve doling out feedback, but now we’ll discuss the less covered process of receiving feedback.

First we must understand that when it comes to feedback there are always two parties, the giver and the receiver. Often times we focus on how to give feedback, but the person who decides what that feedback means and how to act on it is actually the receiver. Therefore, when it comes to feedback, we should spend just as much energy focusing on how to become a better receiver of criticism as on how to deliver it.

The reason why constructive criticism is so difficult to take in is because we all have a desire to learn, improve, and grow but we also want to feel liked, accepted, and appreciated by those around us. Unfortunately, if the latter were the case, we would have nothing to improve on, and if we constantly received only criticism we wouldn’t feel accepted. Therein lies the paradox of receiving criticism. The key to effectively receiving feedback is to move past this internal conflict, find a balance, and focus on substance. Here are some strategies that will help you leverage feedback more effectively:

  1. Find the truth. Often a reflexive response to criticism is to shoot down what the other party is saying, find an excuse, or blame someone else. Although criticism may occasionally be unfounded or politically motivated, more often that not there is some truth to whatever feedback you receive. Isolate that information from the rest and act on it.
  2. Avoid relationship bias. As children we would scoff at our parent’s advice only to wholeheartedly accept identical advice from friends or strangers. In the workplace this could mean ignoring a coworkers feedback and only listening once a manager gives it to you. Try to accept all feedback with an unbiased view regardless of the relationship you hold with that individual.
  3. Ask for clarification when needed. If you are unsure as to the purpose of a piece of feedback, ask the other party what they are attempting to achieve by giving it! You will be able to concretely identify whether you are being coached or evaluated and have a better understanding of next steps.
  4. Be mindful and open to criticism. An easy response to criticism is to reject feedback before we understand what it really means. Understand that there is always room for improvement, and be open to new ideas even if it may hurt to hear them at first.
  5. Seek actionable feedback. You may find yourself in a position where the feedback you receive does not actually help you improve. In these cases, actively engage with the other party and request feedback that would be more conducive to growth.

Being told that you not only have to receive criticism, but that the way in which you receive it may also need to change can be a harsh reality and a hard sell. But, by keeping an open mind, and treating feedback as an opportunity for growth, you will accelerate your professional success and open new opportunities for the future.

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