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How (well) do you receive feedback?

Yesterday a situation arose where a friend was trying to decide how to respond to something that was said about her.

My suggestion was she take the approach I recommend for receiving feedback: either Action on it or Archive it.

We all know that the art of GIVING feedback is a hot topic in leadership development.

RECEIVING feedback is also an art, and one we desperately need to get better at and practice.

Years ago–20+ years ago?–a colleague asked if she could give me feedback. I said yes; she shared her feedback, and it was not easy to hear. But I took it in, said “thank you,” and asked her to clarify so I made sure I understood.

When we finished the conversation, she thanked me for how I responded. “I was nervous,” she said. “You made it easy.”

I’m not sure what came over me that day, as I certainly wasn’t professionally mature at the time. But I took that experience with me.

Now when I talk about receiving feedback, I suggest two responses and two outcomes.

Two Responses:

  • Thank you and/or
  • Tell me more

From there, decide from:

Two Outcomes:

  • Action on it
  • Archive it
Receiving Feedback | 110 West Group | Cynthia Farrell

Action could mean making a change, focusing on your development, or asking others for their input (without loading the question). It could mean going back to the person for a conversation to share your perspective and what you’re going to do or not do with the feedback.

As for Archive, if you don’t agree with the feedback, I suggest you archive it, not ignore it. If the same feedback comes around again, you dig around in the Archive, and you might discover a trend line. That’s something to pay attention to.

Archive and Action is part of my own feedback history. For years I got feedback that I was direct. I didn’t believe it. But I didn’t ignore it–I Archived it. After enough times hearing it, I had to accept the truth and decide what to do with it–what Action to take. For me, the Action was embracing it and developing a leadership style that blends candor with compassion.

These guidelines are helpful for positive feedback too–we generally suck at receiving positive feedback–and can make it much less awkward. Although perhaps “tell me more” as a response to positive feedback needs to be used judiciously.

For all we fret about GIVING feedback, we can get much better at RECEIVING it too.

And go figure–when someone is good at receiving feedback, it gets much easier to give it.

What are your tips for receiving feedback well?

PS – I offer a 90-minute workshop on giving and receiving feedback: “There’s No Good Feedback Sandwich.” If your team could stand to build their feedback skills (and who couldn’t?), contact me and let’s get a workshop scheduled.


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