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  • Writer's pictureYoram Solomon, PhD

How to Take Feedback (TRUST and Feedback—Part V)

This is the fifth article in the mini-series about TRUST and Feedback, and the second about TAKING feedback. In this episode, I will explain the importance of not being defensive when you get feedback and what not to do when you get it. This article will discuss perception versus reality again, but this time from the recipient’s perspective. Finally, it will explain how to benefit the most from the feedback you receive and how to follow up after you receive it.

Don’t Be Defensive

Stephen R. Covey said that “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” This is worse in some cultures than in others. One of the main reasons you do that is because you feel defensive, especially when someone gives you some negative feedback. Instead of trying to benefit from it, you focus on defending yourself and justifying your actions and behaviors. When you do that, you may cause the other person to stop giving you feedback because they might feel that you don’t really listen, and you attack them back.

When you are given feedback, appreciate that gift. Keep an open mind. Focus on listening. Don’t turn it around to offer them feedback. If you really had feedback for them, why did you wait until this moment to give them that feedback? What if they are not ready to take your feedback now? Focus on getting feedback from them.

Don’t feel the urge to explain your actions, justify them, or react immediately. You may feel hurt by the feedback, but remember that “If I unintentionally said something that hurt your feelings, it is 100% your decision to take it personally, become emotional and irrational, with absolutely nothing to gain by it.” Heck, even if the feedback you were given was intended to hurt your feelings, it is still 100% your decision to take it personally, still with absolutely nothing to gain.

Perceptions vs. Reality

Remember that what you are hearing might only be 10% true in reality but is 100% true in perception. You can’t argue with another person's perception of you, even if you know it’s not true. Also, remember my photography analogy: what happens 1” outside of the frame never happened. Maybe there are things the other person doesn’t know, and that’s why they have this perception of you. Whose fault is it? Yours! They won’t know what you don’t let them know.

How to Benefit from Feedback?

  • Make sure you understand. Ask clarifying questions to understand better. When they are done giving you feedback, tell them what you understood from it, and get a confirmation that you understood it well before you start thinking about it.

  • Assume positive intention, and acknowledge it to the person giving you feedback. Say something like, “I appreciate your willingness to give me feedback, and I know (or assume) you are doing it to help me.” Don’t overdo it, or you will lose credibility and come across as sarcastic, not meaning what you say, and not worth giving feedback to. Ensure that your body language supports your acknowledgment and interest in their feedback.

  • Pay attention to their body language. Is it consistent with what they say? If their words say one thing and their body language says something else, watch out! This feedback might not be genuine.

  • If you feel that they offer you feedback but with ulterior motives and not pure positive intentions, you can still benefit from it. Still, it wouldn’t be completely inappropriate to indicate that to them, and it will likely prevent them from doing it in the future or shift towards more genuine feedback.

  • Take time to think about the feedback you are getting. Do you accept it? Do you really do or act the way they told you? Why are you doing that? Do you know? If not—then you must figure it out. If the feedback you are given is incorrect and based on the wrong impression of you, ask yourself why do you create that perception? You could tell them that their perception is wrong and explain why, or you could change your behaviors and communications to prevent this perception from continuing.

Acknowledge, Don’t Commit (Yet)

When getting feedback, you must focus on understanding it, internalizing it, analyzing it, acknowledging it, and reflecting on it. That is not the time to react, plan, or make commitments. Just like I encourage people who give feedback to seek acknowledgment and not commitment, I encourage you to provide acknowledgment but not commit before you fully analyze the feedback you received. Take your time. Think about it. Decide whether anything needs to change. The fact that someone gave you negative feedback doesn’t always mean that you must change what you are doing. Maybe your personalities are incompatible in a fundamental way, and you are not willing to change. That’s a valid conclusion, as long as you do it consciously and accept the possible consequences.

Whether you decided to change anything in your actions or behaviors, it would be good to share your decision and plan with the person who gave you the feedback, unless they are not interested in it after giving you feedback (that’s rare). Even if you decide to stay the course, they deserve to know that after they were willing to give you that feedback.

And remember that taking feedback well helps you become a better version of yourself. You will also become more trustworthy and thus more trusted.

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