Select Page

How to listen to feedback

Consider the following scenario …

A close colleague comes to you and asks for feedback. “Give it to me straight” they say.  So you do. Far from being grateful they get defensive. You can see it in their body language. You can hear it in their response of, “Yes, but …” or, “You don’t understand what else has been going on.”

How will you feel about giving your colleague feedback next time they ask?

My guess is that you will probably feel less like providing that support. 

Now, have you ever done that yourself? Be honest.

“Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say.”

Andy Stanley

If you want to have a team with a voice you will need to give them one.  So, if you’re asking for feedback from those around you here are a few rules to consider:

  • Rule 1:  Shut up and listen.  You will be tempted to speak and defend yourself. After all, you are potentially getting information that conflicts with your sense of identity or your status. ‘Fight or flight’ or amygdala hijack will kick in. Prime yourself and stifle the impulse to open your mouth.
  • Rule 2: Break Rule 1 if, and only if, you’re going to ask a question.  It’s okay to ask questions to get clarifying information to help you understand what you’re hearing.  A rule of thumb is only to ask questions you don’t know the answers to.  Also, before asking the question, test it in your head. If it sounds like a genuinely curious question, then it’s okay to ask. If not, if it seems judgemental or condescending, revert to Rule 1.
  • Rule 3: Take notes to demonstrate to the other person you are taking their feedback seriously and will give you something to refer back to later.
  • Rule 4: Once the other person has finished, use the following script (or something similar): “Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to provide this feedback. You have given me a lot to think about. Would it be ok to take a day or two to think about what you have said?  Maybe we could catch up in a few days if I have any further questions?”  Taking this pause will allow you to stifle the impulse to defend your position straight away and allow any emotions you are experiencing to settle.  You can then look at your notes with a more objective view later and make less subjective decisions about whether the feedback is valid or not.

Giving feedback is challenging but receiving it is integral to our growth. Don’t switch off a potential source of valuable information by inadvertently telling people you’re not prepared to listen.

You can read more of my thoughts on feedback here