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Feedback It All Sounds Great Until You Get It



I am a big believer in giving and receiving feedback. If you’ve followed us here at thrive!, you’ve heard us talk about the importance of feedback for your development and getting better results.

It's all true. But let's face, I say it. I mean it. But when I get it sometimes it’s HARD.

Let me share a recent experience about our upcoming book. We’re now in the final hours. Well, okay weeks or months. We recently we got the advice to reach out to publishers, just in case there was an interest. The good news is two publishers invited us to talk to them!

We were feeling pretty good.

We shared pieces of the manuscript and waited to hear.

The feedback wasn't what we wanted. One publisher said he didn't think we really had a big idea. Ouch!

Defensively, I wanted to write back and say, “Maybe our idea isn't new, but it sure seems like an idea that bears repeating! Fortunately, I didn’t do this!

I wrestled with my inner protector who kept thinking “He knows nothing. We DO have a big idea. Let's just self-publish now!” Fortunately I didn’t do this either!

You get the picture. I was not handling feedback very well at all and I had invited it.

That's the thing about all the leadership development books and articles out there. I read them and think, as an adult I should handle feedback professionally - right? On paper it seems, if I was a strong, mature leader and person, I’d listen, I'd reflect back and I’d make the correct adjustments.

Sounds reasonable, rational and doable.

But, no – that’s not how I’m wired or many of you other humans out there.

Instead, my job is to deal with, and work through, the emotional ouch of getting feedback. That part is not talked about in those other leadership development books.

It’s the deeply human experience of taking in the feedback and stabbing yourself with it may be even repeatedly.

Have you ever noticed (of course maybe you are above this) but when you get that 360 feedback - which comments do you read more than once. Usually it isn't the positive ones!

I remember the first public speaking event of significance that CrisMarie was engaged to do at a women's conference on leadership. She had standing room for her talk. Of course like good believer in feedback, she passed out a feedback form asking: What did you like? What did you dislike? How could I have made this better?

She got a lot of great feedback. However, one person did not like her story or her style. CrisMarie tortured herself with that one piece of feedback over and over and over again. She let it stall her speaking for a couple of years!

She'll say it herself. She knows that was not the best, most mature reaction. No, it was her fallible human reaction.

Most of us can recognize the ouch that comes from receiving tough feedback. Then there’s the question how to respond? If you get defensive people won't keep giving you feedback. If you too upset and show the hurt, people will try to help, fix it or take it back.

Not helpful but human.

So what do you do?

Here's a simple (but not always easy) 5-step process.

Step I: Say, “Ouch!” – If not right then and there, at some point express the impact the feedback had on you. You don't need to over-dramatize it, but make it big enough so that part of you that’s in pain feels heard and acknowledged.

Step II: Put the Knife Down -- Don’t keep stabbing yourself over and over with the feedback like CrisMarie did. If it’s said to you, write it down and then put it away for a while. Be sure you capture concretely what you heard. Plus, don’t just write down the negative comments include both.

Case in point, the same publisher also said:

  • “Your writing is lively, smart and credible.”

  • “Your energy and enthusiasm jumps off the page.”

  • “I do believe you have a unique special sauce and experience”

  • “I’m open to working with you if you’re open to it”

I missed these comments the first time round when I was repeatedly stabbing myself. So put the knife down.

Step III: Identify and Own Your Defense Style

Here are three fairly classic ones:

The Explicit Defense: “Let me explain.” Where you try to rationalize why it is good that you act the way you do. This is one of my personal go-to tactics. Outcome: People decide it’s just not worth it giving direct feedback because it feels like a battle.

The Collapse Defense: “You’re right, I am horrible.” You swallow the feedback hook, line and sinker and eliminate any balanced point of view. This is more like CrisMarie. That one comment in the speaker feedback translated to she’s horrible and should give up speaking. Outcome: People holdback their feedback because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, or worse they give the feedback and then work to take it back.

The Silence Defense: They simply shut down. This is the person who makes no comment or fanfare, but also gives no sign that the feedback was received. The rationale might be, if I don’t acknowledge it maybe it didn’t happen. Outcome: People keep trying to get you to hear the feedback by repeating themselves. This often backfires and the receiver of the feedback, you may just choose to leave the role or even find another job.

Step IV: Take Your Own Action

Just because someone wants you to be different or doesn't like something about you, doesn't mean you have to change. Yes, take out some of those tools: Listen. Reflect back what you’re hearing, but don't swallow everything whole. See if you can discern the kernel of truth and acknowledge it. Decide what does fit for you and what doesn’t.

Step V: Ask for Help

It’s important to reach out to a trusted friend, a mentor or coach. This can give you some perspective if you are struggling either wallowing in the pain of the feedback or in your own defensiveness. It also helps you discern what if anything you want to do differently.

Yes, feedback is important, but it isn't always easy. It's okay if you are not perfect when you receive it. Just don't let that reaction get in the way of what can come next!


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: www.thriveinc.com. Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.


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