Everyone’s a Critic: How to Receive Feedback Effectively

One topic has been rolling around in my mind lately–the vital importance of feedback. I’ve worked in a few different professions: public relations, ministry, and now as a teacher, and out of those none offered as much feedback as teaching. Teachers are evaluated throughout the year, and given feedback on a fairly consistent basis.

This is great for a competitive person like me. In fact, that is one of the reasons I love teaching, because I get that feedback. I always felt a little let down or even demotivated by the other professions, which didn’t give formal feedback or evaluations. I just had to sort of guess, and get good at reading people. However, guessing only leads to stress.

The flip side of the constructed formal feedback given in education though, is making sure it will push the educator to grow. Evaluators, usually administrators, hold that responsibility. This can be difficult, especially if the evaluator has to navigate through a myriad of varied personalities.  However, most teachers, much like our students want the–hard to hear truth– about how they are doing in the classroom, and desire to be stretched in their practice.

I do want to emphasize most teachers, because some do not accept feedback well, especially what is perceived as negative feedback. They might walk away from an evaluation grumbling down the hall, and decide to attack the messenger instead of looking in the mirror. This is dangerous, and actually sad, because what they may not realize is by putting up a defensive wall, they are actually hurting their own career.

Over the years, I’ve had my moments and that is why I recognize it so clearly in others–the defensiveness– the inability to recognize my own part in a problem. However, after leaving the ministry for education, I took a long, hard look at myself. I realized that if I’ve got not one, but several people telling me that I need to work on a skill like organization or system development, then guess what, the problem is me, and I need to get busy. That is when I changed my view on feedback, and became open to it.

Today, I welcome it–good, bad, and everything in between, and I’ve grown tremendously as a result. I know that it is out of love, not finger-pointing that most feedback is given. Effective use of feedback all boils down to being open, honest, and constructive with what is given and what feedback is being received. Each party is responsible for doing their part, and being self-aware.

How to Receive Feedback Effectively: 6 Quick Tips from the article, “Taking Constructive Criticism Like a Champ”  (The Muse.)

1. Stop Your First Reaction

At the first sign of criticism, before you do anything—stop. Really. Try not to react at all! You will have at least one second to stop your reaction. While one second seems insignificant in real life, it’s ample time for your brain to process a situation. And in that moment, you can halt a dismissive facial expression or reactive quip and remind yourself to stay calm.

2. Remember the Benefit of Getting Feedback

Now, you have a few seconds to quickly remind yourself of the benefits of receiving constructive criticism—namely, to improve your skills, work product, and relationships, and to help you meet the expectations that your manager and others have of you.
You should also try to curtail any reaction you’re having to the person who is delivering the feedback. It can be challenging to receive criticism from a co-worker, a peer, or someone that you don’t fully respect, but remember, accurate and constructive feedback comes even from flawed sources.
 3. Listen for Understanding
You’ve avoided your typical reaction, your brain is working, and you’ve recalled all the benefits of feedback—high-five! Now, you’re ready to engage in a productive dialogue as your competent, thoughtful self (as opposed to your combative, Mean Girls self).
As the person shares feedback with you, listen closely. Allow the person to share his or her complete thoughts, without interruption. When he or she is done, repeat back what you heard. For example, “I hear you saying that you want me to provide more detailed weekly reports, is that right?” At this point, avoid analyzing or questioning the person’s assessment; instead, just focus on understanding his or her comments and perspective. And give the benefit of the doubt here—hey, it’s difficult to give feedback to another person. Recognize that the person giving you feedback may be nervous or may not express his or her ideas perfectly.
 4. Say Thank You
Next (and this is a hard part, I know), look the person in the eyes and thank him or her for sharing feedback with you. Don’t gloss over this—be deliberate, and say, “I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about this with me.” Expressing appreciation doesn’t have to mean you’re agreeing with the assessment, but it does show that you’re acknowledging the effort your colleague took to evaluate you and share his or her thoughts.
 5. Ask Questions to Deconstruct the Feedback
Now it’s time to process the feedback—you’ll probably want to get more clarity at this point and share your perspective. Avoid engaging in a debate; instead, ask questions to get to the root of the actual issues being raised and possible solutions for addressing them. For example, if a colleague tells you that you got a little heated in a meeting, here are a few ways to deconstruct the feedback:
 

  • Seek specific examples to help you understand the issue: “I was a little frustrated, but can you share when in the meeting you thought I got heated?”
  • Acknowledge the feedback that is not in dispute: “You’re right that I did cut him off while he was talking, and I later apologized for that.”
  • Try to understand whether this is an isolated issue (e.g., a mistake you made once): “Have you noticed me getting heated in other meetings?”
  • Seek specific solutions to address the feedback: “I’d love to hear your ideas on how I might handle this differently in the future.”
  • 6. Request Time to Follow Up

    Other Links and Videos on the Topic

    Get Better at Receiving Feedback
    Sheila Heen, coauthor of Thanks for the Feedback, explains why feedback is so hard to receive and how to pull value from criticism.
    http://hbr.org/video/3166586126001/get-better-at-receiving-feedback

    Receive Feedback With Grace and Dignity

    http://humanresources.about.com/cs/communication/ht/receivefeedback.htm

    Find the Coaching in Criticism

    by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone

    http://hbr.org/2014/01/find-the-coaching-in-criticism/ar/1

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    One thought on “Everyone’s a Critic: How to Receive Feedback Effectively

    1. This topic is one I've given a lot of thought to over the years. I agree with everything you've said here about how to receive negative feedback. It is not easy, but having a structured way to view it, as you have laid out here, adds an objectivity to it that makes it possible. I remember the first time I had the opportunity to put the principles, similar to what you've written, into practice. That's because I had fair warning of what was coming and had time to prepare myself mentally. I was ready and did it right. What could have been the end of a relationship actually made it stronger. And lesson learned for me, being able to receive criticism without falling apart or going crazy is so very freeing. I'm still working on this, however, and appreciate the excellent post you have written on the subject!

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