Ask - Listen - Act
There is a lot of good (and some not so good) advice out there on how to deliver feedback and advice. But have you ever stopped to think about how to ask for and to receive feedback?
Knowing how to ask for feedback is often a missing leadership skill. A skill that may be even more important than knowing how to deliver feedback. When we practice asking for feedback we are building the leadership capacity of self-improvement and self-awareness. Good feedback provides new perspective and objectivity, along with a path to action.
Most people are happy to provide their opinion and to offer advice. Asking is an easy skill to master. Learning how to receive the feedback is a bit more challenging. So lets start there.
(To clarify, my intention is to discuss how to ask for and receive feedback rather than engaging in conversation; although, most of this can be utilized in a discussion format too.)
Often when we are on the receiving end of feedback, constructive criticism, advice, difficult conversations, etc., our lesser self thinks we are being attacked. The natural or human reaction is our default, which is a defensive posture, which could manifest as:
- shutting down
- excuse making
- judgment of the messenger
- plotting revenge
- stop listening
All this boils down to missing an opportunity to receive.
What if, instead, we treated feedback as a gift and opened ourselves to graciously receive. How do we respond with gratitude and show appreciation? We say, “thank you.”
“Wait, what? I was just handed a shit sandwich, and you expect me to be grateful?”
See how quickly we resort to our default – defensiveness? Yes, I am advocating gratitude. However, this first requires us to believe that the giver actually has our best interest at heart. Most people who offer feedback or advice are truly trying to help. Especially true if asked for input. Asking for feedback from people we respect usually makes this a non-issue.
Once we check our assumption at the door, we listen. Really listen. Pushing aside all reactions to take in what is being said. Listen to understand. Don’t listen to respond because you don’t get to respond when you ask to receive the gift of feedback. You simply listen, and openly receive. After listening – reply with gratitude.
You may find yourself having a reaction to what you are hearing. If so, take a mental note of what was said along with the emotion it stirred. Park it, and continue listening. Plenty of time to reflect later. If during the feedback you truly do not understand something, you can ask one or two questions, but no more than two, clarifying questions. Only to clarify what is being said, not to engage in a conversation or rebuttal. Another way to seek clarity is to ask for an example. Specifically a set of contrasting examples, for instance: “when did I exhibit this in a positive way, when did I do this in a way that could have been improved?” The best way to gain clarity may be with a simple open-ended question, “can you go into more detail?”
Listen then respond with gratitude. When we practice deep listening without reacting, we build the leadership capacity of self-regulation (the ability to control behavior, emotions, and thoughts).
Now let’s back up to how we request feedback. A confident leader may ask for feedback when they want new insight, a fresh perspective, or expert advice. An insecure leader may view asking for feedback as a weakness. A strong leader knows the vulnerability of asking develops Emotional Intelligence. Regularly asking for feedback builds leadership strength. Asking for honest feedback requires self-confidence. Excessively asking for or seeking approval is not the same as asking for feedback and suggests lack of confidence.
Here are some considerations when soliciting feedback:
- Get specific about what you want feed back on and why you want it.
- You can’t change the past so ask about the future.
- Who can provide you with valuable insight? This may be one individual or several people. Think outside your normal circle of comfort.
- Be cognizant of how much time you are asking for. Is a two sentence off the cuff response sufficient, or are you asking for a substantial investment of time?
- Be clear that you are seeking honest feedback.
A simple example:
You want feedback on your presentation skills (what) so that you can improve (why) your delivery (future).
You admire the way Pat (who) presents. You are asking for a few pointers, which should take less than five minutes (time).
The conversation might go like this:
How to ask:
“Pat, I admire the way you deliver presentations. I want to improve my presentation style. Would you be comfortable giving me feedback on how I might improve going forward?” Pat encourages you to focus more on the content of the message and less on the use of visuals.
Default mode to receiving feedback:
Your ego hears this as an attack. It has a big investment in the creation of the visuals. You spent a lot of time and effort getting things just right. Carefully choosing the colors. The typeface. Meticulously aligning text and graphics.
New way to receive feedback:
You take note of the emotional reaction – and park it.
You continue to listen as Pat explains the needs of the audience and what you want them to take away from the presentation.
When Pat finishes, you graciously express your gratitude saying, “Thank you. I appreciate your advice and your time”
Asking for and receiving feedback. Check!
But wait! There’s more.
Now that you have received feedback, what are you going to do with it?
Nothing says thank you more than seeing action. The feedback process is not complete until action is taken. Taking action may be simple. Or it may be a long and involved process, such as changing old habits or beliefs. If you are asking for feedback, the expectation is you are going to act on it. Action is where leaders build character.
But what happens if you don’t agree with the advice you receive? Not everyone gives good, objective advice. When this happens, check if the advice is valid and if you are resisting, then act accordingly. Seek additional input. If you are getting similar feedback, reconsider your perspective. If the feedback still does not sit well, be gracious and thank them for their advice. You may want to follow up with them later to let them know you considered their advice, and why you chose a different direction.
If you want feedback – ask for it. Be prepared to be on the other end of the question and learn how to give valuable feedback, too.
What feedback will you ask for today?
- Listen (without judgment)
- why I coach