How to get better at receiving feedback 

IDEAS.TED.COM

Sep 15, 2021 / David Burkus PhD

Nata Schepy

This post is part of TED’s “How to Be a Better Human” series, each of which contains a piece of helpful advice from people in the TED community; browse through all the posts here.

For leaders at any level, the single best way to grow is to lead and then get feedback. It is to act and interact with your team and learn what can be improved upon through feedback. Feedback is a better teacher than books, academic journal articles, trainings, speeches and even TED Talks.

And I say this as a writer who translates research from academic journal articles while giving trainings, speeches and TED Talks.

After you reach a more senior role, people tend to minimize any unpleasant or less-than-positive feedback or don’t want to offer you any constructive criticism at all.

But there’s a problem with receiving feedback once you reach a more senior role. The nature of feedback changes — people tend to minimize any unpleasant or less-than-positive feedback or don’t want to offer you any constructive criticism at all. And your response to feedback may also change; you may not internalize feedback because you don’t see the whole picture or you could get defensive.

Here, I’ll outline four steps you can take to get better at receiving feedback in order to grow as a leader and grow as a team.

Step #1: Start with thank you

The very first response to give when someone gives you feedback should be a response of gratitude. Don’t get defensive. Don’t offer to explain what they might not understand. And don’t even jump further into what you should change (we’ll get there). Instead, take time to offer your thanks for the gift you just received — the gift of feedback.

While feedback is a gift, it’s even more so a risk. When a team member speaks up to offer you feedback, they’re taking a risk with how you’ll respond. 

Why should you do this? Because while feedback is a gift, it’s even more so a risk. When a team member speaks up to offer you their feedback, especially critical or constructive feedback, they’re taking a risk with how you’ll respond. They’re risking potential damage to the relationship or retaliation. Or they’re risking wasting their time by giving feedback to someone who won’t receive it. Starting with “thank you” lets the other person know that risk was worth it and you will listen.

Step #2: Restate what you heard

Whether it’s praise, criticism or some other type of feedback, take the time to restate to the person giving it what you heard them say. Just a quick “What I hear you saying is _____” can have a powerful effect on your conversation.

Restating their feedback lets them know that their opinion matters and makes it more likely you’ll get additional feedback in the future from this person. 

Restating the feedback does two things. The first is that is checks your own understanding of the message, so you don’t risk taking in the wrong lessons. But more importantly, restating the feedback you heard allows the other person to feel heard. 

It lets them know you were really listening and — just like the first step — that this conversation isn’t a waste. It lets them know that their opinion matters and makes it more likely you’ll get additional feedback in the future from this person (and anyone else they talk to about this conversation).

Step #3: Mention what you’re changing

Listening to feedback by alone doesn’t bring about growth; it’s only when feedback is used to figure how to act differently (or start or stop acting) that growth actually happens. And if you’re going to be making changes as a result of the feedback, why not share those changes with the person or people who helped you discover what changes to make?

Once you’ve figured out how to apply feedback, be sure to share it with those who gave it. 

However, you don’t need to tell those who give you feedback what you’re changing right away. It’s OK to circle back later on, re-thank them for their feedback, and then mention what you’re changing. But once you’ve figured out how to apply feedback, be sure to share it with those who gave it.

Step #4: Seek out more feedback

Feedback isn’t a one-and-done intervention; it’s a process. You’re growing, changing and improving all the time — and to do that you’ll need more feedback. 

So make sure you’re developing a habit of seeking out more feedback. When you finish stating what you’ll be changing, ask if you can set a date with that person or group to re-evaluate how the change is going.

Not only will you get better at receiving feedback over time, but people will also feel more comfortable giving it to you. 

This does two things. First, it will guarantee more feedback at a later date. But more importantly, it will signal how open you truly are to receiving feedback and make it more likely you get unsolicited feedback at any time. And unsolicited feedback from those you trust is often the most potent.

Feedback is an ongoing process, and it may be difficult the first or second time you’re in a feedback conversation to meaningfully hit all four steps. But it will get easier over time. Not only will you get better at receiving feedback, but people will also feel more comfortable giving it to you. 

This article originally appeared on DavidBurkus.com and has been adapted with the author’s permission.

Watch his TEDxUniversityofNevada Talk here:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Burkus PhD is an organizational psychologist and bestselling author of five books, including Leading from Anywhere: Unlock the Power and Performance of Remote Teams.

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