Are you receiving the feedback you need? Five steps to getting better, more constructive feedback

Receiving feedback is a bit like taking medicine: It can be hard to swallow but it can do you good in the long run

Like many people, I can feel vulnerable having someone critique my work, particularly when it relates to something I’ve put my heart and soul into. But I recognise that receiving constructive feedback is one of the primary ways to unlock potential. That’s why over the years I’ve learnt to seek out honest, open feedback, even if it is hard to stomach. And sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised!

Despite the benefits of receiving constructive feedback, many businesses seem to restrict feedback to regimented reviews every few months or as an annual ordeal. While it is essential to have these formal sessions, it is not ideal if they are the primary way that employees learn about their colleagues’ perceptions of them. Waiting for the next review to find out what you should have been doing for the last six months can stall progress and de-motivate.

Rather than expecting an entire organisational structure to change, there are things you can do if you want to use feedback more effectively to accelerate your personal and professional development:

  1. Ask for feedback frequently: Make it your mission to find out what your colleagues think of your work on a weekly or even daily basis, rather than waiting until the end of the quarter. That way, there won’t be huge surprises at the next formal review. You’ll also gain valuable experience in how to handle feedback, positive and negative, so that it becomes a normal, healthy part of your career progress. I routinely debrief after any working session to review what worked and what would make it even better.

  2. Seek out advice, not retrospective analysis: It is easy to get hung up on a scenario where things did not go to plan and spend time dissecting it but this is not productive. When discussing a situation which your reviewer feels you could have handled differently, steer the conversation towards what you can do in the future. Ask the question ‘what advice do you have for me?’ to gain practical, forward-looking support.

  3. Assume good intent: If feedback is done in the right way it’s never wholly negative. But if you do receive feedback which you struggle to react to, swallowing your ego and saying ‘thank you’ is often the best way to handle it. Generally, people want to help and give their feedback with good intentions. If their observation really doesn’t ring true to you, then remember this is just one person’s viewpoint. You are free to accept or reject it and move on.

  4. Gather your support network: Constructive feedback is only helpful if you decide to take action as a result. Develop a support network of trusted people with whom you can discuss your feedback and invite them to help you to make improvements.

    For instance, I used to get feedback about being too intense and so I started asking members of my team to let me know if they saw signs of this. This made my colleagues aware that I knew I was working on this and it gave me the support I needed to proactively move towards being less intense. It also took the stigma away from the negativity of the feedback, as I could be called out on this in a light-hearted way and they knew I would react with good humour. Now I rarely get this feedback.

  5. Remember you’ll never be perfect, so play to your strengths: Please don’t fixate on the areas where you fall short! Ask yourself if this shortcoming is vital to address or is it something that it would be better for others who are more talented in this area to pick up? If it is a vital skill be realistic about how you can improve, without expecting instant results and remember you have plenty of strengths that you can also work on developing.

This is my first post on the topic of feedback. I’m planning a few other blogs on this area covering how leaders can get honest feedback on their performance and how to give constructive feedback. If you have any questions or comments about your experience on any of these areas I’d love to hear them.