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How I try to respond when I’m given professional feedback

I’m a great fan of continuous improvement, and feedback from others is the lifeblood of this.

The benefits (and shortcomings) of self-reflection

Whenever I undertake something, I’m thinking carefully about what I could do better. This can provide me with ways to improve, without any outside help. But there will be a whole raft of things I could be doing better that I won’t be able to spot. To become the best manager I can be, I need to find out this information, and act on it.

Why getting feedback can become more difficult with seniority

If you’re already in a position of seniority, you’ll have had to learn how to act on feedback to get to where you are. At the bottom of an organisation, feedback is usually relatively easy to come by. If you do something wrong, you’ll find out about it: if you upset your boss, they’ll tell you. You’ll also be keen to ask for feedback, and your manager will be happy to give you it.

Things change a little when you’re the one in charge. It’s no longer obvious to others that you want people to feed back to you frequently and honestly, even if you state as much in departmental presentations. And when you’re busy, it can be easy to respond to feedback curtly or peremptorily, even if you do find it useful and later go on to act on it. Or you may have an emotional reaction to feedback, especially if you do feel, deep down, that you’ve done something badly.

Add this to the fact that giving useful, honest feedback is actually really hard, and you might find people fear giving you honest feedback, in case they upset you.

My process for responding to feedback

To guard against these challenges, I have a set of rules for myself, which I strive to keep to when someone gives me feedback.

Firstly, whatever the feedback is, I immediately say ‘thank you for the feedback’. This shows them I appreciate their taking the time to help me, and increases the likelihood I’ll get more feedback in the future.

Before I respond, I take time to absorb the information (or calm down!) and think rationally about it. If the person is looking for a response there and then, I’ll say something along the lines of ‘let me reflect on what you’ve said and come back to you’.

Once I’ve thought about whether I agree with the feedback, I consider what I’m going to do about it and, if applicable, act (or try to!) accordingly.

I subsequently try to let feedback-giver on how useful their feedback was! I remind myself they probably didn’t find giving feedback easy, so feel it’s important to reassure them it was the right thing to do. Of course, some pieces of feedback will be more useful than others, and I’ll try to let people know which bits were most helpful, so that they too can practise continuous improvement of their feedback-giving.

I’d be really interested to know your approaches to handling feedback. What have you found particularly effective? And are there things you’ve tried that perhaps haven’t been as useful as you’d hoped? Let me know by emailing me on [email protected].

This blog is adapted from a chapter in my book, Galvanising the Geeks. You can buy the book on the online bookstore on my website.

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