Feedback is vital to the health and culture of any organisation. When we are open to feedback, we become aware of our performance, and we learn and understand our behaviour and actions. This knowledge and awareness can help us understand and appreciate how our behaviour and performance may impact others. It is often the most powerful route to positive change and performance improvement, both as an individual and a team.
However, not all people react to feedback well, and not all leaders and colleagues deliver feedback well. The reality is that people who can give you good feedback help you if you know how to respond and are willing to accept the feedback.
How people respond to feedback
Reaction to feedback is often about the relationship that the individual has with the feedback giver. According to Harvard University, relationships are often the biggest derailer of feedback conversations. Our reactions to feedback are influenced by what we think about the other person’s skills and judgements, their creditability and whether we trust their motives and share their values.
Most of the time, when feedback is given, the issue is not about what was said. Instead, the problem is more about:
How, when, and where the feedback was given. The circumstances at the time the feedback is given significantly affect how the person will receive and respond to the feedback. Timing and location are so important when giving feedback.
The relationship to the person giving the feedback. Regardless of the feedback, what we think about the person giving the feedback and how we feel treated by them will significantly affect how we receive and respond to the feedback. For example, if we think this person has unfairly judged us, we will not want to listen to the feedback.
Safety and protection. How safe both parties feel when the feedback is given can impact the delivery of the feedback and how it will be received. Therefore, psychological safety is critical in any feedback discussion.
Appreciation and acceptance. Other elements in a feedback conversation can impact how we respond to feedback – whether our efforts are appreciated and whether our successes and contributions to the company are acknowledged. Or does our excellent work go unnoticed, and the slightest mistake is picked up and highlighted.
Autonomy and leadership. When receiving feedback, leaders will also think about whether their autonomy and leadership are being questioned separately from the feedback. Leaders will consider whether they have the space and can control what is needed to improve.
Learning from feedback
Surprisingly, people we find it difficult to get along with can teach us a lot about our behaviour by giving us feedback. They push us outside our comfort zone toward improving ourselves and becoming better at what we do.
Use every bit of feedback you receive as motivation to drive your growth and professional development. Sometimes it can be hard to hear feedback, and it causes resistance in us. But we should be open-minded to feedback and always try our best to learn from any negative experiences or comments made by others.
If you want to learn more about giving feedback, I run a workshop on Giving and Receiving Feedback.