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How to deal with feedback

Helen Mayson


Feedback can often be difficult to hear, but you should listen to it with self-awareness and appreciation, says management and staff development trainer Miranda Salmon

Those of us who believe in self-development recognise the value of feedback. The Johari window shows us that being open to how others see us is an important element in this.

However, receiving feedback is not always an easy process. Those who give feedback may have many reasons for doing so and may not always have the necessary skills.

It therefore often lies with the receiver to manage the way they handle the information received.

We should perhaps receive feedback in the same way that we receive gifts.

Let’s say that somebody has given you a scarf a present. The scarf might be perfect: it's a good fit, it complements what you already have and perhaps even offers a new facet to how you see yourself.

Yet there’s every chance that the scarf isn’t so perfect. In fact, there might be that awkward moment when you look at what you have been given and wonder what planet the person was on when they chose it for you!

But even if the gift is not what you want, the person has at least taken the trouble to think of something to give you, so thanking them is important if you want to maintain the relationship.

If you are not sure the scarf is right for you, the best thing to do is to try it on anyway – what looks unimpressive lying in front of you may well suit you better than you imagined. Even if it’s not quite your style, perhaps it highlights something about yourself that you hadn’t previously noticed?

If the feedback doesn’t make sense to you straight away, you should file it away in a corner of your mind. When you have more information from elsewhere to add to the feedback, you will see another side to it.

If you are still unsure about the scarf, you could leave it the wardrobe for a while, taking it out occasionally to reassess whether there’s some aspect about it you like. In the end though, having given it careful consideration, you may decide that it is neither a good fit nor right for you, in which case it may be right to give it away.

Feedback can be seen in a similar way. Although there are times when feedback can be used as a form of bullying (or is poorly ‘wrapped’), more often than not it is a genuine attempt by another person to give us the ‘gift’ of seeing an alternative viewpoint about ourselves.

This can take courage, and, just as with gifts, the first thing to do is to thank the person. This in itself can remove the sting from those who are using feedback for other ends as it demonstrates we are in control of the comments.

Try it on

Having received the feedback it is useful to explore it, turn it over and ‘try it on’.

Perhaps the person has spotted something about you that you were unaware of. Perhaps they’ve seen something that is undermining your ability to be as effective as you would like.

Or perhaps you are better at something than you thought, and should just be stretching yourself more.

Although you may not want to interrogate a gift-giver about what they intended, with feedback it is sometimes useful to ask the person to explain their thinking a little.

What have they observed or noticed? In what situations have they seen you behave like this? Can they give you a specific example?

Having explored it, you may now find that it does make some sense and is more accurate than you had thought, even if that stings your self-esteem a little. This is where our own courage to listen to feedback with self-awareness and honesty really comes in.

If the feedback doesn’t make sense to you straight away, you should file it away in a corner of your mind. It may be that when you have more experience or information from elsewhere to add to the feedback, you will see another side to it.

We also need to place this feedback in context – even if we don’t agree with it.

Do we need to do something with it to maintain our relationships (work or personal) or to keep our job? How could we adjust our behaviour to make it easier for others to work with us, even if it means going out of our way a little?

In the end, though, just like with unwanted gifts, holding on to some feedback may just be cluttering up your mental space.

If it’s really not right for you, let it go. Don’t carry it around like an unwanted burden, feeling embarrassed or grudging every time you see the person who gave it to you.

Even if feedback was given with negative intentions, recognising that we are all human and make mistakes can go a long way. If the intentions were negative then hanging on to it can just cause us more problems.

Instead you should appreciate the opportunity it has given you to reflect on yourself from a different angle.

It might allow you to spot something about yourself and your actions that you had previously missed or it might confirm something that you already know.

Miranda Salmon is a freelance management and staff development trainer. With over 25 years’ experience of working with a variety of organisations, she specialises in enabling participants to get the most from learning opportunities.


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