3 Ways to Make the Most of Difficult Feedback
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Don’t be afraid of feedback.
Five minutes into my first talk to a group of CEOs, one pushed his chair back, tilted his head back and let out a silent groan. I wasn’t connecting and he was letting me know.
I prepared for weeks. I accepted the feedback and resolved to improve my speaking skills, but I still had 35 minutes to go.
Not all negative feedback is given directly. When you can harness it, you can stop wasting your time and other people’s time. There are three steps to using feedback effectively.
#1 Recognize absence of feedback is negative feedback.
The easiest feedback to give is none.
The giver doesn’t have to risk hurting your feelings, getting you mad or having to defend their feedback. At the end of my CEO talk, there were a couple of questions. They avoided me after the presentation. Nobody offered any feedback.
#2 Give permission for honest feedback.
The next day I called one of the CEOs in the audience and asked for feedback.
He asked was I ready for it and I gave him permission to not hold back. Some of it hurt. He said my talk was indulgent, vague and verbose. It was painful to hear. It was difficult to not interject.
#3 Just Receive the feedback.
It is hard enough to give negative feedback, so just accept it.
One person’s perspective is not the only perspective and you can get multiple sources. Look for the common threads. They are telling you something that will help you achieve what you want faster.
The next day, I started the long journey to improve as a speaker.
Two years later, I got a request from the same group to speak. The silent groaner was there. This time his head stayed level and he was engaged throughout. The negative feedback improved my skills.
How might leaders successfully seek feedback?
Alex Vorobieff is a business turnaround specialist, working to implement Business Alignment Tools for their specific needs. Alex has served as clean-up CFO and president of companies in telecommunications, aviation, aerospace, and real estate development, leading successful turnarounds in as little as three months. He shares his how-tos and techniques through Confident ROi magazine and his latest book, Transform Your Company: Escape Frustration, Align Your Business, and Get Your Life Back.
Feedback is painful, but you made it productive! Well done!
Feedback is most difficult when your ego is in the way. Difficult to hear, but necessary!
Feedback is easier to give sometimes than to receive. I have no problem giving it but I struggle to take it. Thanks for the tips. Sometimes, it’s better to just soak it all in and say nothing at the moment. We may get mad but, I have found, that after taking to time to think about it, I often start to agree with some of it and try to work on those areas for myself.
Feedback, regardless of whether it is negative, is fuel for change. One who doesn’t try will never grow.
Check out this podcast I did a brain expert who confirmed we are wired to have a poor relationship with feedback
Good Ideas! Would love to read more!
I received some round about negative feedback from one of my team members yesterday when she complained about not knowing the purpose of our team meeting. My gut reaction was one of frustration but I stayed calm and positive and quickly realized that I need to do a better job of communicating to my team. Feedback, positive and negative, can help us improve.
Leaders are like most people and feedback makes them uncomfortable. Modeling the appropriate “receiving stance” when accepting feedback is the best gift leaders can give their employees. An organization that is seen by all (internal and external) as willing to accept and ACT on feedback is an organization moving constantly toward excellence.
Good advice and reminder to request feedback.
Great post! A lot of times the hardest feedback to receive is negative feedback, but that is the feedback we need the most to grow!
In a leadership seminar last year, I learned a lot about giving and receiving feedback. It was a safe environment, so it was a good place to practice. One of the keys that we learned is that there are only three things you can do with feedback. Accept it. Reject it. Defer judgment. The hardest is to accept it when you don’t agree. Take an honest look at yourself and identify places you can change to address the feedback you received.
I like what KK Owen is thinking. Setting parameters for giving and receiving feedback is good. Often, “honest” feedback blindsides us. If back and forth feedback is commonplace, then it is just taken as normal, and part of the organizational structure.
While it feels like a personal affront (especially when you’ve prepared and reviewed and prepared some more), MOST feedback is meant to help you grow. Consistently seeking feedback will (I believe) make it easier over time to improve yourself daily. The more often you seek it, the less it feels like an attack and the more it feels like part of your normal process.
I have been trying hard to not get upset with negative feedback. My initial reaction is being upset but then I reflect on it later and figure out where I went wrong. Usually, it is while walking my dog, that I get the best advice to suck it up, it’s not all about me and look at it from their perspective. What a smart dog!
I’m ready to learn more!
We frame feedback as “Courageous Conversations” which somehow empowers us to talk about tough issues with others. Love the “absence of feedback is negative feedback!” It’s so easy to buy into the “no news is good news” attitude. Awesome post today. SC
Feedback is necessary for growth whether positive or negative. Negative feedback is a roadmap to getting in the right direction. I coach our staff to think of negative feedback as a tool to help mold them to successful behaviors and it isn’t a personal attack as to who they are. Most people view negative feedback as a measure of who and what they are. It took a while for me to change my thoughts on negative feedback and I now gladly accept it as long as it comes from a positive place for growth and not from a negative and bad attitude person who just sees everything as a negative. Yes, many of us know and have these type of individuals in our workplace and world! My attitude of how I receive negative feedback determines my outcome as to how I change the area in which I’ve received feedback. Thanks for a great conversation on a necessary topic!
Negative feedback is often difficult to both give and receive. I would love to read more about this challenging topic.
I think reflection helps so much with receiving feedback. Alot of times, we are required or feel compelled to respond on the spot. “Let me sit with that.” is often a great response.
So very true, we all get negative feedback but its what we do with it that makes a difference.
No one enjoys negative feedback but if you want to improve you need to know where and what to address so its necessary. I usually have to stop myself dwelling on it and focus on what to do about, its not easy but I found it does get easier the more you do it.
I actually enjoy negative feedback – how are you going to get better if you don’t know what to get better on! I can’t wait to share this with my peers!!
Would love this book! It would not only assist me but my staff!
I often have a hard time getting honest feedback. I typically use anonymous surveys (brief likerts scales with free comment) to try to collect this information, which I thought would be easiest. It is amazing how little response I actually get with that method. I like the thought of following up individually. I know my best critics are most honest & challenge me to improve!
The quote below really puts feedback into perspective.
“One person’s perspective is not the only perspective and you can get multiple sources. Look for the common threads. They are telling you something that will help you achieve what you want faster.”
Don’t dismiss the feedback. Ask multiple sources and make meaning of the feedback.
Love this topic. Being able to give constructive criticism is the most important ability that a manager can have and chronically their biggest weakness.
Using negative feedback to build a positive structure is key. I agree that holding back the interjection is difficult as we are all far to quick to take the defensive stance. Keeping the perspective that negative feedback is truly a positive influence is a key concept in building any relationship whether in workplace or personal experiences.
Good point, Stacey. It has begun to be popular to ask for feedback but some people do that in a perfunctory way. If you ask for feedback, you should actually desire it and utilize it to grow.
I think leaders can take note here. I am not currently in a leadership position, but work closely with the leaders in my dept. I hate when they ask me for feedback and then do not acknowledge it. It sometimes gets to the point where I just don’t offer it anymore. I don’t feel like they take me seriously. So if you ask for feedback, and it’s not given, there might be a chance that person doesn’t think you care and you’re just going through the motions. Make sure to listen and acknowledge, even if you disagree.
In my experience, all feedback has some value – it takes calm discipline to find the value and learn something from it (maybe about you, maybe about the other person, maybe both!).
Scary, I request feedback from my boss all the time and rarely receive it. But, as a leader myself, I do the same thing with people I struggle to manage.
This is great! I’ve definitely had my share of ‘difficult’ leaders in the room. I embrace the feedback whether negative or not, but would like them to realize we are on the same team.
I’ve come to view feedback as a gift – bored with the “yeh, it was really good” I’m looking for more e.g. what exactly was good? or even better what could have been better – those are the gifts I’m really interested in and as my mother taught me, when someone gives me a gift, I say “thank you” for the spirit/intention that it was given (even if it’s more to do with them than me!). And then I choose what I do with my gift. In the giving of feedback however, like all good gifts, they require a bit of thought in the content and presentation …
Somehow your columns are always what I need to hear – this sounds like a great book!
Negative feedback is certainly hard to hear, especially when employees take pride in their work. Leaders can demonstrate what it looks like to take feedback (positive or negative) before they themselves need to give feedback. It can help set a positive culture around tough feedback, which would help the entire exchange. Do anyone know of situations/case studies where this has been done?
Excellent but difficult advice. I will share this with others. Thank you!
I am constantly asking for feedback. One of the things I learned early on is when it is quiet, there are issues! And once my team gets accustomed to me seeking feedback, it happens easily and without hesitation. True leaders use this feedback to become a better leader and to make their organization even better.
You can gain something from everything, even nothing. Great story.
It’s important to process feedback correctly & with the right attitude which is sometimes difficult when we take it personally. Thanks for a great article encouraging us to process it correctly. I liked the part about looking at all the feedback and looking for a mutual theme for our correction.
Negative feed back is hard to hear. It will always benefit us if we open ourselves up to it and apply it in a positive way. Great story.
Sometimes we are afraid of receiving feedback because it may uncover weakness or get someone upset however feedback should be taken in stride because it allows us to process what has happened so that we can do better in the future
As a leader, I take “negative feedback” as positive or constructive, as you are indicating in this article. I like to ask the question of the people I work with, “What can I do better to help you do your job?” With this question, it actually opens the door for feedback, and you find the opportunities to grow. The people you work, get to know you as one who wants to get better, and wants them to succeed at the same time.
Great post! Being a safety professional, I conduct training at all levels in organizations. I routinely distribute evaluations after each session. Early in my career, it was hard to receive negative feedback, especially when a lot of effort went into the preparation of a session. However, over time, I learned to view negative feedback as an improvement opportunity. Sometimes the improvements would be noticed, but sometimes not. By keeping notes of feedback in the back of my mind during subsequent sessions, I have been able to better connect with audiences.
Way to go! I agree. However, I’ve encountered many, too many, people that don’t; and it makes it a real challenge to provide feedback. Especially if they’re colleagues or peers. If feel lots of empathy for the CEO that verbalized his/her feedback.
Feedback is hard to hear but necessary. It can be the road to improvement.
Thanks for the advice which i will pass on to my direct reports!
Feedback is tough to give and receive, but it is so valuable in both directions. Great post.
Several years ago, I had a particularly challenging lunch discussion with my CEO. During the course of lunch, he offered up some extremely critical feedback which was difficult to digest to say the least. Frankly, I look back at it now as a changing point in my career. He confronted some things that everyone else was tip-toeing around. I have thanked him countless times for having the courage to speak to me with honesty and compassion. It has made me better in every way. And as a leader, it is something that I have tried to do whenever necessary.
The suggestion of permission to feedback sticks out, ask for it and be prepared to address it, the good, bad, ugly, uncomfortable own it all. It does not mean you accept it all but at least acknowledge it.
Thanks for the post on feedback. To often, I’m afraid of the feedback so I don’t ask for it.
You have to change the culture of your team in order to share and receive feedback all around. This is not easy and takes time, but it is crucial if you want to be able to improve organizational performance and outcomes (and overall morale of the group). I have tried to foster this through supervisory one-on-one’s and during departmental staff meetings.
“The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.” – Lee Iacocca
The most important thing is to create an environment where feedback is acceptable. No one I know enjoys negative feedback, but we need to get comfortable with it. Also, we need to create an environment where feedback is just feedback – positive or negative – and it should be shared with all due respect to the recipient. It should be honest, just, fair, realistic.
Finally, the most important thing is to ask the recipient for permission to receive the feedback. Thanks for the post, Dan!
Constructive feedback depends on the manner of delivery AND the persons willingness to accept and use it to improve.
Enjoyed your post!
Great point, “absence of feedback is negative feedback”.
I think this is one I really struggle with, especially if the person giving me the feedback is a hot mess!
It is easier said than done.
Being honest with youself and having the right intentions when you receive feedback are what I think is key.
Having facilitated many programs over the years, reading many evaluation forms, and solicitiing feedback in order to get better, the little sting doesn’t totally go away.
I still need to be aware of that split second between getting the feedback and making judgements on the feedback provider. It’s my chance to intervene into my own process and remember my intentions about feedback pertaining to me.
I have to want to improve, or care about my product in order to set myself up to get the most out of my feedback.
On top of this you can’t please everyone.
But you can set expectations and meet them.
They say feedback is the breakfast of champions. I believe “timely” and “authentic” feedback is critical. It’s taken a lot of patience to receive and give the type of feedback that moves the needle forward for myself and others.
Great points! Feedback is something that must be sought out. If you aren’t receiving feedback about your performance, ask for it!
I think it all comes down to how one views feedback in his/her own mind. I’d guess that, for lots of folks, the term “feedback” itself is a negative one. Part of our job as leaders, managers, or coaches is to challenge (and hopefully change) that perspective. I read somewhere a while back that “feedback is a gift”, which makes sense to me if we believe the purpose of giving it is to help us grow and improve. I read elsewhere that someone calls it “insights” instead of “feedback”, because insights can sound more enlightening/empowering to some folks. Both ideas have stuck with me, as I believe one has to view feedback as a good thing before they will really hear it, accept it, and do something about it.
Feedback! The truth shall set you free! Even if it hurts!
Another great example of personal transparency and purposeful growth. Thank you.
Remove the EGO component of listening to feedback in a way that is only critical/blaming and flip the perspective to be from a position of service or love……this will emphasize the desire for improvement rather than shaming.
You make a great point that many times, especially with our direct reports and subordinates, we need to give them permission to be open and frank in giving us feedback. Setting that environment is not only a one time signal, but we deliver the message we are reception to negative feedback through how we interact everyday.
I’ve tried to teach and use an approach in getting feedback in which I Listen to capture the feedback message without responding or explaining the why.. In getting feedback we should be in receive mode and only respond to clarify or ask a question, not justify our approach….
Sometimes we just need to look in the mirror, the reflections speak to us.
Learn “not to take everything to heart” if you want to grow.
Sometimes people giving feedback don’t have all the information you have. It is interesting where feedback comes from.
Would luv a new book to read this summer.
A good reminder to listen, get feedback from multiple sources and to look for the common threads in it. Couldn’t have come at a better time.
I think we can be scared of feedback. Maybe someone didn’t steward the opportunity well when giving feedback. Feedback is meant to help you improve and grow. If you look at it through that lens, it can help ease the pain. IT won’t completely remove the discomfort of feedback, but it can give reason to it and help us push through!
Great reminder that the absence of feedback is negative feedback.
What are some ways to ask for additional feedback (besides directly asking for it)?
I’ve seen some anonymous polling websites access through cell phones work well.
Looking forward to reading “3 WAYS TO MAKE THE MOST OF DIFFICULT FEEDBACK”.
Just take the feedback and don’t defend yourself. Hard to do but, oh, so important! For so many reasons!
This is so right. “It is hard enough to give negative feedback, so just accept it.”
I was given some negative feedback from another team regarding my team this week. At first, I was hurt, then mad, and after a few minutes of reflection and thought I realized we are having a communication break down we can fix this. Then without getting upset with this team, I shared the feedback with their leader. I asked for a meeting with that teams’ Director to discuss ways we can improve communication between our teams. So, for now, I accepted the feedback and now I’m working to come up with a plan to fix the issue(s). Thanks for the post! It was timely for me.
Feedback should be part of the learning process and used as a tool for growth. Whether it’s negative or positive remarks, “I’ll take more”. This is also a good reminder to give more feedback.
Feedback should be part of the learning process and used as a tool for growth. Whether it’s negative or positive remarks, “I’ll take more”. This is also a good reminder to give more feedback.
We must keep in mind that it is essential to give and receive feedback with a sense of teamwork and comaraderie, as well as in the honest pursuit of improvement.
When provided from a position of jealously or with malicious intent it will certainly be damaging to the individual and the team. It is important to be honest and practice candor but it is equally important to be tactful.
When receiving feedback of this nature, keep an open mind and take the high road. Understand that while the feedback may not be 100% accurate, there is likely some truth to it. We must focus on identifying those parts and continuing to better ourselves.
Great post! Would love a copy of the book, too!
Feedback can be tough to swallow, but it makes us better leaders
A much-needed topic. Love it.
Giving feedback and receiving feedback at equally as hard. It’s a matter of how you give and how you respond to any you receive. People give feedback as they want to help you grow and develop your skills.
Feedback is a gift given and can help you grow. There is ALWAYS something you could have said or done better. Even if you disagree with feedback given, the opportunity to hear it to sort it out for yourself should never be denied.
Negative feedback can be welcomed for improvement of course. It needs to be honest and straight. It should also constructive, and hopefully will come with potential solutions, ideas, offer to help out, etc. There are so many mentors and coaches out there who ignore themselves! We need you.
I constantly ask for feedback and receive little from those I lead. I was thinking they didn’t want to give the boss feedback. This however, makes me think there is some unspoken criticism there.
No feedback…no growth!
Both giving and receiving feedback can be difficult. These skills need to be learned. I wrote recently on receiving feedback with these 5 steps: 1) Lay the foundation through open dialog. 2) Ask for feedback in a context of learning. 3) Be ready to receive feedback. 4) Take action on the feedback. 5) Circle back to encourage the culture.
Great post! Learning to receive feedback is as much of an art as finding effective ways to provide it.
I like it. As I speak to a group that is usually 24 to 40 people, I’m constantly scanning the faces and body language to see if I’m connecting. And, if I see someone not paying attention or appearing bored, I will direct a question toward them at some point a little later on or seek input. I’ve also learned you can’t connect with everyone throughout a presentation for various reasons beyond my control and influence. Thanks, Dan.
Great post – we can’t fix what we don’t know about. Seek out feedback and be open to what others have to say. Don’t let your own emotions overpower the information. You don’t need to respond immediately – take it in and honestly review it then seek out further clarification in needed.
I’ve never thought of the absence of feedback as being negative feedback until you pointed it out. It made me think of the times I was asked for feedback and did not have any. This will make me more aware when I ask for feedback. Thanks.
Great idea – I’ve never associated the lack of feedback with negative feedback but now I’ll pay closer attention to where my silent spots are.
I have heard it said that the last person to know my weaknesses is myself. I might as well accept negative feedback early and learn how to improve. Thanks for this post!
I’m reading Radical Candor by Kim Scott and she goes into a lot of depth on how to give feedback, but first how to show you can receive it well.
Great story! It is hard to hear negative feedback sometimes, but it does make one stronger if one applies it correctly.
Feedback might be hard to hear, but gets even harder if you don’t learn from them.
I would love to read this book.
I just gave someone feedback – the easiest thing to do would have been to complain about his performance to someone else and walk away.
He appreciated it!
Feedback is a gift. Negative feedback is a great gift.
Asking for feedback from a trusted person can help us discover our blind spots that others see in us any way! Thanks for more clarity, would love to read this book to find more ways of uncovering mine!
I recently heard a person say this quote “A Humble Person Cannot Be Humiliated” which I think certainly applies to receiving feedback. I think we all know (at least in our heads) that we are not perfect, however our actions do not always show this. I think that setting aside one’s ego is a requirement for receiving feedback. Its not always easy especially when you don’t even realize that your ego is at play. Your book sounds like an interesting read, I’d love to learn more about the topic. I don’t think one can ever say they have arrived in this regard.
Feedback is wonderful to receive!! Good or bad it’ll make you better. I think you also have to work at GIVING feedback in order to get better at receiving it. Would love to hear more.
Feedback should always be considered on a positive note. It more depends on how you receive the feedback and apply it. And also giving feedback too should be both beneficial to giver and receiver.