Feedback about how we are doing (in any situation) is useful and if it is given with thoughtfulness and with helpfulness in mind, it is a gift. Listening to feedback about yourself can be hard, but if you learn to not only listen, but respond gracefully to it, and reflect upon it properly, it can be the gift that keeps giving.
I had a situation last week where my direct supervisor, who oversees several program managers, stopped by an off-site meeting that my leadership team and I were having to strategize our contact approach. It was the very last hour of a long, but productive day. He is a good man and I know he came just to be part of what we are doing, as things on my program are going very well right now. I had six other members of my team with me and without any circumstance or warning, he suddenly delivered some fairly negative feedback about our program from HIS supervisor, two levels higher than me in the chain of command. I was a little surprised, and we were all mentally drained, so I did get slightly defensive (though I did remain respectful.) I actually heard myself after a few moments, and took a breath, paused, and then just said, “Thank you, we’ll take those thoughts onboard and ensure we are considering that idea.” I silently told myself that I should have done better and just said “Thank you” in the first place.
This is something I am working on, and you can see – I still have room to grow. I thought this would be a good time to remind us all of ways that we can receive feedback. Feedback can be requested by you or it can come at surprising times (like my story above.) We cannot always predict when it will grace our ears, but we can work to improve the way we respond when we are given this gift. Why do I keep calling feedback a gift? Think about it this way, it may not always feel good, but knowing what someone is thinking removes the guess work. I would rather know what someone thinks than to wonder. If we have to speculate, we may be wrong (for better or for worse) or it may put us in a fantasy world where everything seems fine. This will not drive us to be the best version of our self. I do encourage you to request feedback from others and use that feedback to learn about yourself and to make improvements where necessary, even if you didn’t ask for it.
Some ways you can ask for feedback:
- Talk to your friends. In my friend group, I have one friend who does not have much of a filter, and tells us all what we need to improve upon, all of the time. She is also usually right. Even if you don’t have such a straight forward friend, you can ask your friends to give you feedback on a topic, just ask them to be honest, assure them you will not get mad, then truly listen with an open heart. Do not talk while they are talking. When they are done, just tell them, “Thank you.” After that, give them a hug.
- Ask your spouse, significant other. This one is a lot like number one, but there may be a lot more potential for emotion with this one. I do believe that if you and your love can be kind and honest with each other and if you can talk openly, back and forth, your bond will only grow stronger. Being able to give good feedback and to gracefully accept feedback is a skill that you have to work on, but it can be one of the most important base qualities for a long-lasting relationship. Also… It is likely, if you have been with this person for years, that they know you far better than anyone else in the world knows you.
- Ask your co-workers, from time to time, how you are doing on a specific task, or generally. I would caution you to not over do this type of request, as it may become too much. Again, as with your friends, just ask for honest, helpful feedback. They may be cautious when they give it, but if you genuinely take it well and appreciate it, they will be more likely become more open to these requests in the future.
- If you have a mentor, reach out to them with a topic you want or need feedback on. A mentor, especially one who knows you consider them a mentor, should naturally provide you with good, thoughtful feedback when requested.
- A slightly more formal, though possibly anonymous way to get feedback is from a 360-degree survey. These surveys, especially when the responder believes they will not be known, can result in very specific and honest feedback. There are a number of online sites that offer 360-degree leadership surveys. You can send them out to as many people as you like. Some even allow you to send several to supervisors or senior people with questions to answer from their level, a level for your peers, and another level for people who you supervise. The questions for each group will be tailored to their interaction level with you. They will be given a time to respond, maybe 14 days, then you will receive a comprehensive report with all the ratings and specific remarks made from all people who took the time to respond.
- Formal performance and mid-term reviews given to us by our supervisor is probably the most common type of feedback most of us have considered. This feedback can be useful, and should be taken seriously, but often, by the time it comes, we wish we had known it earlier. Do not be afraid to occasionally talk to your supervisor, informally, throughout the year for more immediate feedback.
I do believe if you use the first five methods of feedback more often and process the unexpected feedback you receive with reflection and a mind to become the best you can be – by the time you get to your annual evaluations, they will be good and will continue to get better year after year. So, go ahead – take a deep breath, find your grace, and ask for feedback!