December 29, 2011
How to ask for, then accept feedback
The Washington Post
Requesting feedback from others about your specific behaviors is a frequent recommendation in this workplace-advice column. But many people are uncomfortable doing this, or are at a loss as to how to proceed.
There are three inner factors to face before you take action:
Clarifying the items you’re trying to improve.
Examining fears you may have about getting candid feedback.
Knowing your likely responses to feedback so that you can accept it appropriately.
When requesting feedback, be specific; this will help your observer to provide much more insightful comments. Also, ask in advance to give them a chance to form impressions. For example, you may want to be more effective with staying on agenda when leading meetings. Ask a trusted meeting participant to observe your performance and give you feedback on both strengths and aspects for improvement. Or ask a mentor or coach to attend as a silent observer, which can be a very effective technique.
In some cases, people avoid feedback because they’re afraid of what they might hear. If this is the case for you, consider the following: First, what’s the worst thing that could happen? If hearing about ways to improve would be devastating, give serious thought to the reasons you feel so vulnerable. This could be an ongoing hindrance to growth, so you shouldn’t take it lightly.
Then look at the risks of not getting feedback as well as the potential benefits. The risks could include limits on career advancement; the benefits may include increases in personal satisfaction.
Receiving feedback gracefully is a skill in itself. If you’re apt to become defensive or angry if you hear feedback that you interpret as negative, take a step back. Focus on thinking of these comments as a gift, and remember that it takes a lot of trust to offer these perspectives. Practice saying “thank you,” and only ask clarifying questions. No excuses -- just appreciation!
First, identify the right person to give feedback. If you’re working on decision-making skills, seek feedback from someone whose decisiveness you admire. But also consider whether he or she is observant and reflective enough to provide helpful information. And be sure it’s someone you trust and who has a communication style you can relate to.
In approaching this person, provide context. Try something like: “As part of my professional development, I’m working on my delegation skills. Since you’re so effective at that, I’m hoping you can observe my strategy and give me feedback. Could we discuss ways to make this happen?”
This ties your request to their strengths and doesn’t put them on the spot for immediate comment. If they accept, make a plan to pursue specifics, and if they decline, be sure to thank them graciously.
When it’s time for your feedback session, prepare yourself by getting centered and being open to the learning that is to come. If you find yourself getting defensive, just listen, take lots of notes, and ask to follow up with questions later.
Feedback can be hard to request and even harder to hear, but the insights you gain are an irreplaceable gift and well worth the effort.
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