As human beings we really want to be accepted as we are – which is why it is difficult to accept feedback.
Most leaders want to learn and develop. But listening to feedback is difficult and contradictory. There can be both a sincere desire to hear how one is experienced as a leader. And at the same time, it can hurt to hear where one is not good enough.
Feedback can therefore both be something you want and yet do not really want.
As a leader, it is extremely important that you work on your own ability to listen and receive feedback. Especially if you yourself want to have a behaviour and culture in your department or organization that is characterized by openness and willingness to learn and develop. You are the role model for what is possible.
Feedback courses are most often about giving feedback and less about being able to receive feedback. On the whole, it is an underestimated managerial competence to be able to listen and receive feedback. In this article, we will go a little more in depth with what makes it difficult to receive feedback and then come up with the good advice on what you can concretely do.
The 3 triggers
Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone write in the Harvard Business Review (Find the Coaching in Criticism) that after all, there are only 3 things that can “trigger” an inappropriate emotional reaction when we get feedback from others. The 3 triggers are:
Truth Trigger: When you hear something that you experience that has been shot right next door. You become indignant, feel wronged or embittered.
Relationship Trigger: When it comes to what you think about the person giving you feedback. It can be contempt for the other: “Who does he really think he is?” or disappointment that someone you experienced having a good relationship with has something negative to say: “I thought we were friends”. That way, you may end up rejecting feedback that you might accept if you got the same feedback from someone else.
Identity trigger: When the feedback contradicts how you see yourself. Whether the feedback is right or wrong, it can be devastating if it makes you feel completely wrong. If you are perceived as the complete opposite of what your own core values are, you may become overwhelmed, defensive or completely out of balance.
Deal with your emotions
All three triggers trigger an emotional response that is both natural, reasonable, and sometimes unavoidable. The most important thing is that you become able to discover what is happening and not let the emotions drive you to where you are not able to be in touch with yourself or the other.
In other words, it’s about being able to deal with your emotions by acknowledging what’s happening to yourself. The solution is not to pretend it is not happening, but to step aside and look at yourself and your own reactions. This will allow you to take the feedback in instead of just dismissing it.
Sometimes the feedback is more about the person giving you feedback than it is about you. For example, if you get the feedback that you too often say your honest opinion and perhaps should wrap up your statements more, then it may be that it is in fact more about the sender than about you.
But that’s why there’s still good reason to listen, because it’s still about how the other person experiences you as a leader. This way, the next time you have a message for your employee, you can think about how to get it said. Then you can stay in the dialogue and ask about how the employee experiences your message.
Feedback deals with both what one appreciates in the other and what one would like to see more or less of. When the feedback is about what is appreciated, it can also be a challenge to take the message in. The blockages may be that you feel that you are being talked down to. Your answer will be, for example: “I know that”. Or if you become embarrassed, your response may be: “That was nothing special”. Maybe you find it easier to identify with your shortcomings than your strengths?
No matter how good self-insight you have or how successful your management career has been, it is good to always be able to listen to feedback and be aware that you may get feedback that may get behind you. You will always be able to be surprised because the people you surround yourself with are different. And at the same time, you change yourself as you develop as a leader.
The managerial context also changes when changing position or organization. There is a difference between leading employees and leading managers. If you come from a culture, where the tone of conversation is direct and straightforward, then what was successful can be perceived completely differently in another organization, where one has not been used to having these dialogues at all. Here it is important to know how to act on others, and at the same time be able to have a dialogue with your employees about how you are perceived.
Listen and have an appreciative behaviour
Whether you are emotionally affected by the feedback or the feedback is more about the sender, you have a responsibility to listen and think about the message, so that you have a real basis to react and act on afterwards. And it is extremely important to exhibit appreciative behaviour as a recipient so that your employees continue to have the courage and desire to provide feedback and talk about what may be difficult in the relationship.
If you are not perceived as listening and as a leader who wants to understand, your employees will stop giving you feedback. If you do not get that feedback, the following will happen: You are missing out on getting to know how you work on others. You stop developing your leadership. There will be topics that will not be possible to talk about, and in the end, it will affect your and your employees’ ability to create results.
Good advice for receiving feedback
- Ask for feedback. Ask your employee, colleague or boss for feedback
- Listen actively. You have a responsibility to understand what is being said.
- Rephrase what you hear. Make sure you understand what is being said. Say, for example: “What I hear you say is…”
- Be curious about what is the reason for the feedback. Why is it important to the sender?
- Ask for examples. If the sender does not provide examples himself, ask for them.
- Do not explain or defend yourself. Feedback is the sender’s experience of a situation. You can’t change it.
- Do not say that you knew it well in advance. Others will think that if you knew it, why did you not do something about it?
- Pay attention to your body language. Especially in the beginning it can be cross-border to get feedback. Your body language should not prevent you from getting feedback at a later date.
- Say thank you. This increases the chance that you will also receive feedback later.
- Follow up. If you can use the feedback and want to work with yourself, return to the one who gave you the feedback. Then you show that you take the feedback seriously and work with it. This may give rise to further constructive feedback.
- Get feedback in several places. Be sure to get different inputs. Diversity can give you more insight.