It is a universal truth that for every action there’s a reaction, and that if one force influences a thing, the thing also influences this force. So, why do we talk so little about receiving and implementing feedback?
Sure—we talk a lot about giving feedback, how to be better at it, how to give it to our teammates, how it can be comprehensive, constructive, relatable, data-based, personal. The list goes on and on.
But even a quick Google search shows that we have ~50% fewer results for the term “receiving feedback”. It seems that the management community has been so fixated on how to deliver feedback we’ve forgotten that, without proper reception, it won’t actually change anything. We will just be able to cross it off the list, and that’s not the point if we want to create a better working environment and grow together with the team.
But why is it even a problem? Shouldn’t well-delivered feedback be also well-received? Apparently, no.
People tend to react defensively when they receive feedback—and it works both ways. I’m pretty sure that you’ve met some people who just cannot take a compliment or those who, on the contrary, cannot acknowledge that their actions may disorganize the work of the team. It’s natural—we’re constantly struggling and balancing between our inherent need to be liked and accepted and our desire to grow and develop ourselves.
How can we improve our initial reaction to the feedback we’re receiving? According to Douglas Stone and Sheila Keen, authors of “Thanks for feedback”, it’s mostly about changing our attitude to a growth mindset and learning about triggers that we experience when we’re getting feedback.
Firstly, we need to be honest with ourselves. Do we really want to hear the feedback? Do we want to change? Maybe we feel comfortable in our current position, we feel confident about our abilities, perhaps we’re (not without reason!) on top of the structure in our firm, so we’re supposed only to give feedback to others rather than receive it?
With this kind of attitude, we’re missing a lot. First of all, there are some blind spots that we simply won’t be able to notice without external “mirrors”. Some patterns of behavior might feel normal for us, but be quite problematic for others. The same goes for our facial expressions or the tone of our voice—we are simply not aware that those things can cause problems.
Secondly, sooner or later we’ll hit the brick wall of unchangeableness, or,even worse, we’ll convince ourselves that our project/department/firm is perfect as it is, and nothing should change the procedures that we’ve developed. That will inevitably lead to fall, especially in our dynamic, changeable IT world.
All right, I think we established that change is needed and that we need to be ready to change ourselves. Perfect, what now?
Well, that’s the hard part. And, if I may be honest, not as exciting as pitching the changing of the worldview.
The first thing that you need to understand is that, according to Stone and Keen, people have certain triggers that influence our reaction to feedback. There’s a truth trigger, a relationship trigger, and an identity trigger. As this text isn’t about reviewing or summarizing the book, let me give you just a few quick examples:
Truth triggers are related to the concept of truth, objective data, perception of reality, and differences that we can have.
Relationship triggers are related to our subjective feeling about someone who gives us feedback, the net of relations formed in our office, and all things related to our roles.
Identity triggers are the most personal ones, related to who we are and what has shaped us.
Learning how to identify triggers in ourselves is a first step to overcoming them and knowingly ignoring them in the pursuit of feedback. Looking for more info, more answers, more insight is something that can change our whole career, especially if we start early. If you’re interested, the book also gives great insight into how to do it, and what can you do to increase your chances of overcoming those triggers.
I’ve got to admit I’ve learned quite a few things about receiving feedback myself, and I’d like to share some quick wins and insights.
Whether you give or receive feedback, structurize it to reflect three areas - appreciation, evaluation, and coaching.
Structuring feedback will allow you to process and internalize it better. Focus on the part you need in this particular moment to grow. Is it some praise, or some real help? Take what you need to grow, but remember that three of those forms exist—if you get feedback that is missing one of them, don’t hesitate to ask. Sorting feedback this way also allows you to make sure that there is still space to grow, but you’re already somewhere on the road.
Peculiarly, those three elements should also be a part of every retrospective:
A good retrospective is, therefore, a good feedback session for the whole team.
When you’re receiving feedback, remember that it is based on things that are often blind spots for you. That’s why it is so important to listen to it. We tend to see and focus on things that are closest to us (our thoughts and intentions), while other people’s feedback doesn’t include them—it is based on our behavior and the impact that we have on them. Based on this, remember that when you’re receiving feedback: