Feedback is an invaluable tool – even when difficult to hear. But regardless of whether you’re a supervisor or supervisee who has received constructive commentary during a 1:1, it’s key to understand the next steps to ensure you get the most out of it – and therefore the most out of yourself.
With that in mind, here are our seven key tips for making sure that you can take difficult feedback and use it to your advantage to develop your skills, improve your output, and succeed in leadership or start treading the path towards it:
- “Clarity affords focus” – As the proclaimed ‘father of coaching’, Thomas J. Leonard once said. Make sure you appreciate and acknowledge what has been fed back to you. Repeat what you’ve heard back to them, to ensure you have understood it. If anything is unclear or you need further elaboration, ask for it then and there. You can only act on concise, direct, critique when you know the difference between what’s working well, what isn’t and importantly, how the latter can be improved both for yourself and in the eyes of the person sharing the feedback.
- Remove the emotion – Feedback is not a personal attack even if, sometimes, it might feel like one. Defensiveness may be your first natural reaction, but it will cut you off from truly hearing (remember active listening) what the other person is saying. Even if their delivery is poor, there is some validity in both what and why they are sharing that information with you. If needed, try to side step the mode of communication and hone in on what exactly it is they are communicating to you. Remember feedback is intended to be helpful and give you another perspective – if you need a moment to digest it and regulate your emotions, again, ask for it. Better to take time before responding, than making rash remarks that escalate the tension and may ultimately cause conflict.
- Practice gratitude – Someone just told you, you did something badly, why would you thank them for their feedback? Well, three reasons. First – they had the courage to tell you something you may not have been aware of. Second, you are being given an opportunity to address it and act differently in the future; not everyone has that. Third, being thankful is proven to help people feel more positive, reduce stress, improve physical and mental health, increase resilience, and forge strong relationships. All great attributes to have as a current or prospective manager.
- Set goals – Separate the feedback into immediate, short-term and long-term objectives and then prioritise them accordingly. You can do this in the 1:1 or after and with the feedback giver or alone; whatever suits you and the way you work best. Seeing the points as professional milestones to be achieved rather than just notes from a review, will help motivate you towards change and trigger new behaviours by defining and refining your purpose. Clear, actionable goals can help you feel disciplined and determined and will ensure that momentum is consistent and sustainable.
- Ask for help – You don’t have to do everything on your own. Look at where you might need support to implement change and request it – whether that’s through training, mentoring, coaching or upskilling. Be proactive and show that you are vested in – and taking control of – your own development by identifying the parts that will require external input.
- Understand how to measure progress – What will it look like when you’ve achieved the aforementioned immediate, short and long-term goals you set for yourself? Will it be stepping up and taking charge of a new team or project? Getting a qualification or certification? Or will it be more traditional in terms of better job title, salary or new management responsibilities? Either way, your professional growth should align with your personal ambitions/motivations so it remains both measurable and achievable.
- Follow up – We’ve previously waxed lyrical about how important 1:1s are for individual and team growth, but don’t wait for them to find out whether things are improving or not. Utilise your peers by getting their unique perspectives or check-in with your manager/reportees during coffee catch-ups. If there’s time, in retrospectives after a particularly challenging time or project, ask for a quick update on how you performed if it relates to any of the objectives set in your 1:1. Asking for feedback regularly takes the sting out of it by making it a normal part of workplace discourse. It will also improve trust and openness with your team members and means any issues can be addressed in a timely manner so they don’t snowball later.
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