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  • Writer's pictureYoram Solomon, PhD

Are You Ready to Take Feedback? (The Trust Show S5E6: TRUST and Feedback—Part IV)

The fourth article in the TRUST and Feedback mini-series addresses taking feedback. First, why do I call it “taking” feedback and not “getting” or “receiving” feedback? Why is taking feedback important to you? What should you do if nobody gives you feedback (and why aren’t they giving you feedback?). You will learn what to do when offered feedback but are not ready to take it and what to do when you suspect that feedback is given to you with an ulterior motive.

Why is getting feedback important to me?

I feel I must repeat something I said in the first episode about feedback, this time to you as the recipient of feedback: “Positive feedback makes you feel better. Negative feedback makes you better. You need both.” There is not much preparation required for you to receive positive feedback. The next two articles will focus on preparing you to receive negative feedback, which is feedback given to you about something you are not doing well. There are two reasons I use the word “take” rather than “receive” feedback. First, because receiving the feedback is a passive action while taking it is active, that will include digesting it and acting on it, if needed. The second reason is grammatical and symmetrical: if one person gives (and not transmits) feedback, the other person takes (and not receives it). Blame my OCD for that…

What if Nobody Offers you Feedback?

Here you are, ready to take feedback, and all you hear are crickets. Nobody is giving you feedback. Why is that? No, it’s not because you are perfect. None of us are. We are all humans, and we make mistakes and therefore need feedback to improve. Did you consider the possibility that nobody is giving you feedback because you don’t appear to be receptive to feedback? In the next two articles, you will get advice on being receptive to it. There is a reciprocal relationship between the willingness to give feedback and the receptivity to it. If you don’t appear receptive to feedback, very few people will give you any.

Regardless, if nobody will give you feedback, ask for it! Be specific in what you are asking for feedback about, and ask people who are in a position to give you feedback on that. You may even feel that someone has feedback for you but are not ready to give you that feedback. Tell them that you sense that they have feedback for you and that you would appreciate getting it, but don’t push. They must be ready to give you that feedback. If you coerce them to give you feedback, you would be doing more harm than good (and have one more reason to get negative feedback…), and they might water their feedback down, rendering it useless.

Try to ask for feedback as soon as practical after you did (or say) something for which you feel you need feedback. It might not be practical to ask immediately after you do something. Can you imagine Blue Angels pilot #3 asking for feedback as soon as they finished one aerial maneuver while they were in the middle of the next one? Better to ask when the show is over. But don’t wait too long. The longer you wait, the less impactful the feedback might be. The feedback giver may not remember the important details anymore, may decide not to give you feedback at all, or water it down.

What if you are Not Ready to Take Feedback Now?

Remember when Maya called me at work for the first time in her life and asked if I was available right now? Other than the responsibility feedback giver has to ask if you are ready to take feedback, you have the responsibility to let them know if you are not. First of all, I congratulate you on your ability to determine whether you are at the right place, time, and state of mind to take feedback or not.

If this is not a good time, place, or state of mind for you to take feedback, but you still take it, it could do more harm than good. You will not be open-minded enough to accept, act on, or otherwise benefit from it. You may get defensive or otherwise project your apprehension from that feedback, which will cause the person giving you the feedback to see you as unreceptive to feedback and will likely not give you the feedback you need in the future.

What do you do if someone offers you feedback when you are not ready to take it? First, say it! Say that you are not ready to take it here, now, or that you are not in the right state of mind. Maybe you are in the middle of something, or right before starting something, and your mind is elsewhere. If the person offering you feedback follows my guidance, they will not insist.

But now, the ball is in your court. Propose another place and time for them to give you that feedback. Remember not to wait too long, or they will forget, water it down, or get cold feet and decide not to give you the feedback at all.

And if you don’t follow up? They will likely consider you unreceptive to feedback and will not give you feedback in the future, and will trust you less. Remember that there is a reciprocal relationship between their trust in you and their willingness to give you feedback.

There are advantages and disadvantages not to taking feedback when you are not ready. Only you can balance them and decide. Make the right decision.

What if you Suspect an Ulterior Motive?

What should you do if you suspect that the person offering you feedback has an ulterior motive? What if they are doing that for any of the wrong reasons I listed in a previous article? (such as shame you, show others that they are better than you in comparison, etc.) Should you still take their feedback?

The first question is, do you really know that they have an ulterior motive? Could that be a misperception by you? Maybe they are giving you feedback for all the right reasons, and you only think they have a hidden agenda?

My recommendation might surprise you. I would suggest that you hear them out (even if you first ask them to give you the feedback at another time or place). Even if the feedback was given without any intention of helping you, there might be valuable parts to it. Get over your apprehension about the motivation and the delivery style of the feedback, and seek the parts that could help you. Yes, it means you have to reduce your sensitivity and overcome your defensiveness (more about that in the next article), but there might be a diamond in the rough there.

There is a folk story I read once that I want to share with you here:

Once upon a time, there was a non-conforming sparrow who decided not to fly south for the winter. However, soon the weather turned so cold that he reluctantly started southward. In a short time, ice began to form on his wings, and he fell to earth in a barnyard, almost frozen. A cow passed by and crapped on the little sparrow. The sparrow thought it was the end. But then the manure warmed him and defrosted his wings. Warm and happy, able to breathe, he started to sing. Just then, a large cat came by and hearing the chirping, investigated the sounds. The cat cleared away the manure, found the chirping sparrow, and promptly ate him.

There are three morals from that story:

1. Everyone who shits on you is not necessarily your enemy.

2. Everyone who gets you out of shit is not necessarily your friend.

3. If you’re warm and happy in a pile of shit, keep your mouth shut.

Do I need to explain?


The Lessons of a Bird: A Short Story, By Allen Klein.

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