In some ways, we know ourselves better than anyone else does — this doesn’t mean we lack blindspots, however. We’re not always aware of our personal shortcomings, and the only way to grow as individuals and leaders is to receive honest feedback from those closest to us. That said, the exchange of criticism in the workplace doesn’t always go over so smoothly. For one thing, some employees may feel apprehensive about giving their managers feedback — there are differing philosophies regarding how managers should talk to employees and vice versa. Additionally, leaders can feel uncomfortable seeking feedback from their peers or dishing it out. However, a lack of open communication can stifle growth across the board, and navigating these waters skillfully is essential for cultivating a healthy company culture.
With all this in mind, let’s explore how to receive honest, productive feedback from your peers without hurting morale or missing the big picture.
How to Get Productive Feedback
Reframe the Question
The term “feedback” can carry a certain weight to it, shading a conversation in a particular light that’s not always conducive to specific, honest remarks. When seeking constructive criticism from peers, it’s often best to avoid this term altogether and phrase your inquiry in a more direct and answerable fashion. For instance, instead of asking a fellow leader for general feedback on your performance, inform them that you’re trying to improve in a particular way (i.e., improving leadership communication, day-to-day productivity, community involvement, etc.) — then, ask them if they think there are things you could do to make said improvements. Direct questions like these won’t just elicit more honest and pertinent responses — they’ll also open the door for more transparent feedback.
The best performance management and feedback outcomes occur when no time is wasted. If something happens at a meeting or event that warrants attention, waiting several days (or longer) to address the issue in question can create confusion and close an important window of opportunity. Our minds can only store so much short-term information, after all, so the sooner you receive feedback related to a specific moment, the more accurate and meaningful it will be.
Ask for Feedback in the Right Frame of Mind
While it’s important to seek feedback in a timely fashion, you don’t want to be unnecessarily hasty, either. If something goes wrong or you’re eager to ask a peer about your performance, you might come off as anxious or frustrated to receive whatever feedback they might have for you. These feelings are normal and not always easy to control in a given moment, but it’s important to only ask for feedback when you’re truly able to hear it — this requires some degree of calm and objectivity.
Fully Digest Feedback Before Reacting
You’re not going to like every piece of advice or criticism you receive — if you did, there would be no room for positive change. Once you’ve received feedback from your peer(s), it’s important to remain calm and avoid reacting off the cuff. Remember that your peers are trying to help you and that they have a unique perspective on different situations and your performance (a perspective you can’t see on your own). You might have a knee-jerk negative reaction to certain bits of feedback, but rather than fighting back or rejecting their validity, take the criticism in stride and allow yourself to think on it for a while before taking action. Even if you still disagree with the verdict, you can now respond in a more objective manner. Most importantly, always thank the person delivering feedback, so they’re willing to provide more honest, constructive criticism in the future.
Make Necessary Changes Based on Feedback
No amount of honest feedback is worth anything if you don’t absorb it and use it to grow as an individual and leader. Failing to adhere to feedback that’s been given to you in good faith will prevent you from overcoming certain challenges and most likely put you in similar positions in the future — positions that might warrant disciplinary action. Moreover, taking feedback to heart and making key adjustments will encourage your peers to continue giving you honest feedback because they’ll see firsthand that you’re willing to actively listen to their comments. Ultimately, this “feedback loop,” so to speak, results in continuous leadership growth and a more open work environment for everyone.
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