Mastering Tough Feedback (Part 4): Responding to tough feedback with dignity
How leaders respond to feedback that stings
The best leaders accept feedback with grace and poise, even if it isn’t heartwarming.
But let’s be honest.
Feedback, like the beautiful jellyfish above, can sting sometimes.
Even for the most hardy of leaders, if you care what people think and have invested time in building your reputation, dealing with the fact that people can see your weaknesses - and want to tell you about them - can be tough.
But every leader has blind spots, and if you are committed to learning about leadership and stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone, not everything will be perfect all of the time.
Whilst in the past leaders needed to demonstrate a degree of impermeability, strength and resolve, it is those who show openness and vulnerability who get the best out of their teams today.
And that means being open to your blind spots, and a willingness to learn.
That’s where feedback can help you - to be a better leader, faster.
The challenge is that even when you know, rationally, that feedback is a good thing, being on the receiving end isn’t always easy.
Think for a moment.
What is your honest initial reaction, when someone says ‘Can I give you some feedback?’.
For most, isn’t always positive, especially in the business world.
Many leaders aren’t accustomed to giving and receiving feedback frequently. And when someone offers feedback, the expectation is that it will be something negative, rather than something positive.
And that can threaten your self-perception; your ego. And when feedback inflicts pain on your ego, your ego fights back.
Being presented with your shortcomings, your ego can get upset, play the role of a victim or be angry and blame the feedback giver.
Ask yourself, is your appetite to be a better leader bigger than your ego?
But naturally if you only get positive feedback that boosts you, then you miss the opportunity to receive valuable, corrective feedback that can help you grow. And that growth is critical to your business and your team.
Creating a culture of open feedback begins at the top. And that doesn’t just mean getting better at giving feedback.
It means being able to take it too.
So, to help you become a role model feedback receiver, read on:
Know another leader who could use a touch of inspiration and help today? This post is free, and public, so feel free to share it.
Model: The Johari Window Model is a simple tool that highlights the complexity of your relationship with yourself and others.
The most valuable and uncomfortable feedback can often focus on the right-hand side, rather than the left. Think about the feedback you have received over the last six months.
Which quadrant of the grid did it focus on the most? Was it based on things that you were already aware of, or highlighting potential blind spots?
What could be driving that?
What can you change in your quest for feedback that would introduce a different focus?
Shift: Unsolicited feedback and critique has an uncanny way of tapping into the primal instincts that ready you for attack. When you receive new information your primal brain assesses it for danger and your threat response kicks in.
And the way you behave under threat can be uncharacteristic of your natural style.
Becoming more self aware and understanding your reactions can help you control or shift your threat response to a response which is more natural for you - and one that makes it much more comfortable for the feedback giver too.
What behavioural tendencies do you have when you start to sense a threat, whether it be conflict, feedback?
How does that manifest itself in the way that you feel?
How can you use the awareness of those emotions to identify early triggers and take early action to nip it in the bud?
Accept: In the heat of the moment it is normal to react, rather than reflect. Instead, treat both yourself and the feedback giver with grace.
Try these three steps:
Listen to the suggestions the feedback giver has. Don’t defend or try and justify your actions or behaviour.
Thank them for their feedback and let them know that you will reflect on it. Giving feedback can require courage so if you want to create a culture of feedback, encourage that openness.
Reflect on it, and then reply. Especially when you don’t initially agree with the feedback, or if it has been delivered badly, give yourself space before you respond. 24 hours is a good minimum rule of thumb.
Reflect: The way that you handle feedback and critique, even when you don’t agree with it is something that determines great leadership. Ask yourself:
What is the feedback givers intention here?
What is it triggering inside you that might be driving your reaction?
What is at the root of the feedback that is being given?
Lead: One of the reasons we perceive feedback as a threat is because we’re not familiar or accustomed to it. It is strange and threatening. The paradox is that the only way to get comfortable with something is by actually doing it.
So if you want to create a culture of more open feedback, start talking about feedback that you’ve got in the past and how you’ve used it.
Use these three questions as a discussion topic with your team:
When has someone has shared a tough truth with you?
Why was it hard to hear?
Why was it helpful?
Read: If you want your team to feel comfortable giving you feedback, managing your internal and external reactions is paramount. This piece by Debra Roberts for Inc.com provides insightful tips on how to get comfortable asking and receiving feedback, even when it might sting.
This is the fourth and final part of a leadership mini series, delving into the art of feedback.
In the first part we dug into how your personal leadership style influences the way you give feedback.
In part two, we explored strategies to adapt your feedback style to better suit the preferences of others.
And last week we identified strategies to get feedback when it isn’t forthcoming.
You can find each piece here:
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