“Feedback is a gift.” How many times have you heard that little gem?  I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that not many people ask for feedback for their birthday, so clearly it’s not up there with a new iPad or a trip to Vegas. The gift of feedback is more like the gift of exercise equipment.

Accepting the Gift of Feedback

There is a method for accepting feedback in a way that strengthens your brand, solidifies your relationships, and enhances your skills.  Follow this process and you’ll be the one preaching to your colleagues about what a gift feedback is…

1. Listen Really Carefully.

You’ll be tempted to hear only the gist of the message, but try to tune in to the specific words the person is saying.  If they are pointing out the flaws in a presentation you gave, make sure you note the exact words. What was the issue (was it vague, long, detailed, dull, etc.), and how big a problem was it (“detailed” is better than “too much detail,” which is better than “excruciating detail”)?

Purpose: Get a sense of what you’re dealing with.

2. Say Thank You.

You’re not thinking “thank you,” but this is your big moment to look strong, courageous, and grateful. Think of the gracious faces that Oscar nominees practice for the close-up of the losers.  Do that face! Then say something that conveys your appreciation. “Thanks for having my back,” or “That’s news to me, thanks for bringing it to my attention,” or at the very least “Wow, give me a minute to take that in.”

Purpose: Turn a tough situation into a big boost for your credibility.

3. Reiterate and Clarify.

Check your hearing and your interpretation of the message. Be as faithful to their words as possible. “Ok, you felt that my presentation had too much detail. Can you give me a sense of where there was too much information?” Ask for specifics about what they are concerned about and also weed out things that weren’t a problem. “What about my delivery, how was that?”

Purpose: Check your listening and leave room for the person to fine tune the message.

4. Ask About Impact.

There are many, many alternative explanations for a single piece of feedback.  Asking questions about the impact of your behavior can give you clues about how you could do something differently next time. “What did you see as the impact of having too much detail in my presentation?” Imagine how different your response would be if the answer was: A) it took up too much time and we weren’t able to get to all our agenda items; or B) it opened up a can of worms and invited questions we didn’t need; or C) It took away from the impact of your big message about how much money we can save.

Purpose: Get ideas about the root issue that will help with fixes.

[NOTE: If this is as much as you can take in at once, say thank you again, and ask for some time to consider the feedback.  That’s perfectly acceptable—as long as you return to step 5 the next time you see the person. Don’t miss the chance to close the loop for the person who gave you feedback.]

5. Test Out Different Remedies.

It’s important to remember that a person’s feedback about you is an opinion and that it’s only their perspective. You don’t necessarily have to act on the feedback or get permission to address their feedback in a particularly way.  But if you value their perspective and the fact that they made the effort to give you feedback, you might want to use the person as a sounding board for how you incorporate their feedback.  “I’ve thought about what you said and I think my next presentation needs to have no more than 10 slides and that each slide should have one main idea.  How would that change the impact of my presentation? What else might you recommend?”

Purpose: Show that you are using the feedback to grow and (maybe even) turn a critic into a supporter.

6. Say Thank You.

Yes, again.  Find a quiet moment to say thank you after the episode is over.  If possible, share what you’ve come to understand about yourself or how the person helped you gain new insight.  “I wanted to thank you again for your feedback about my presentation.  I’m starting to realize that not everyone needs or even wants the kind of detail I like.” But don’t stop there. “I think I’m getting the balance right, but I would really appreciate if you could help me with this…If I start to slide back into too much detail, can you let me know?”

Purpose: Cement your credibility and create an ongoing accountability mechanism.

You might not jump up and down when receiving the gift of feedback, but your ability to stay open minded, to listen, and to demonstrate how you’re using the feedback to make yourself better will really show well.  Even more importantly, it will help you improve. And that’s how you turn feedback into a gift.

Further Reading

How to Take Constructive Feedback

When Feedback Triggers Backlash

How to Deliver Feedback