How to Get the Feedback You Really Need to Know

What if there are things you are doing—or not doing—that are sabotaging your success? What if there are a few key things you’re missing that could help you get even better results? There’s only one way to find out and that’s by getting feedback. Feedback is how you learn. When you seek feedback, you open yourself up to reflection. You become much more thoughtful about what you’re doing and why, how you can improve, how you can maximize your efforts and get better, more predictable results. By seeing yourself as others see you, suddenly you realize where, why and how you can improve. You understand where you’re holding yourself back and where you have the opportunity to surge ahead. Asking for feedback can benefit you in many ways. It can:

  • Help you maximize your natural strengths and reach your full potential;
  • Help you improve your leadership and see into your blind spots;
  • Give you specific direction on how to meet your goals;
  • Help you prepare for advancement;
  • Help you become more effective in your current job; or
  • Give you a sense of what your clients want and need.

Think about your reasons for feedback in advance to take the fullest advantage of the learning it has to offer. Then, before you actually get the feedback, give careful thought to what will happen when you receive it.

Leaders all react to feedback differently. Reactions range from tears to elation. Are you interpreting the feedback in the way that will be most helpful to you? Following are 10 do’s and don’ts that will help you make the most of the feedback you receive.

1. Do choose to work on one or two areas. Use your feedback as a jumping-off point for an action plan, and make some decisions about what it will take to improve in that area.

2. Do focus as much on your strengths as your weaknesses. It’s just as important to build on what’s working than it is to improve on what’s not.

3. Do save your feedback for a specific time set aside for review and reflection. Take the time to get in the right mindset to hear both good and bad news, and be sure you have enough time to work with the information productively.

4. Do seek further detail and clarification as needed. You may come across feedback you don’t really understand. Don’t just speculate; go find out.

5. Do take notes and explore your observations. Your feedback isn’t the final word on you—it’s just a place to start. Add your own insights to what you learn in order to make sense of it and find the real learning.

6. Don’t choose too many areas to work on. Every comment, good or bad, can be a place to look for improvement. Be careful not to get caught in analysis paralysis.

7. Don’t focus on the “bad stuff.” It’s easy to get sidetracked by fixating on what’s not going well. Even when you get harsh feedback, you can learn to put it in perspective.

8. Don’t just skim the feedback. You might want to read or review your feedback several times to really understand the message.

9. Don’t hold feedback against the people who gave it to you. Every single person who gets feedback feels the same way: exposed. Learn to connect with others over the experience for support.

10. Don’t put the feedback in a drawer. Feedback is a message given to you by others who care enough to tell you the truth. If all you do is throw it in a drawer and forget about it, it’s not worth going through the process at all.

If you adhere to these suggestions, you will be in a much stronger place to capitalize on the learning available in the feedback you receive. The process of receiving feedback is a vulnerable one, but ironically, the feedback can strengthen you as a leader. Follow these do’s and don’ts to be sure you make the most of the opportunity.

Joelle K. Jay, PhD, is an executive coach specializing in leadership development and is the author of The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership (Praeger, 2009), which shows leaders how to improve their effectiveness by learning to lead themselves.

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