Leadership Solutions from Read Solutions Group: Listening for Feedback

Monday, January 07, 2008

Listening for Feedback

Your performance review will often generate feedback. The problem is that it is natural to accept feedback that is consistent with your view of your performance and your self-image, and to reject feedback that is inconsistent. But if you don't know what you don't know and/or your perception of standards and requirements differ from your bosses, you may reject crucial information for your development and success.j0422725.jpg

It is never easy to receive feedback, nor is it often easy for the person giving you the feedback. Here are some tips for taking advantage of this difficult process.

  1. Suspend judgement. Don't try to analyze on the spot whether the feedback is "right" or "wrong". Treat the feedback as data to be gathered.
  2. Practice active listening. Summarize and reflect back what you hear with your best listening skills. This part of the process is about accurately collecting the data without distortion.
  3. Make sure you have clarified the information without becoming defensive. Questions along the lines of "I hear what you are saying about my performance; I'm wondering if you can give me a specific example of when I've done that?" Note that this approach is not challenging of the information or the perspective, it is simply gathering more information.
  4. Thank the person for giving you the feedback, whether you agree with it or not. Let them know that you want to process the information and, perhaps, respond later.
  5. Continue your data gathering by checking in with another trusted source. Again, control your defensiveness. If you approach a friend with "Can you believe he said that I...", you will receive emotional support while minimizing your opportunity to learn. Try instead, "I'm trying to get a better perspective on what the boss is saying; have you seen or heard me acting in X fashion?"
  6. When you have a clear picture of the feedback, along with supporting evidence and stories, consider how you will respond to the feedback. Is there potentially a blind spot that you need to learn more about? What part of this situation do you own? Is some of this only one person's perspective? Is it possible that the perspective is more widely held than you think; how can you investigate that?
  7. It is easy to react to feedback; much more difficult to choose how to respond. Take your time to decide what you will do with the information and how you might reply.

For additional tips, see How to Receive Feedback with Grace and Dignity by Susan Heathfield.

Performance Feedback Wrap-up: Send me an email on the good, the bad and the ugly of this round of performance reviews, and I will summarize the most interesting anecdotes in an upcoming column. Remember, we learn from reflections on our own triumphs and challenges, as well as from the experiences of others.

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