It’s a typical Wednesday morning at the office and five minutes after you’ve settled in, started sipping your morning coffee, and tackling early morning emails you notice an email from your supervisor. She wants you to stop by her office at 10:30 a.m. to discuss the proposal you submitted last week.
Instinctively, your mind outlines the 1,472 ways you can account for areas where you may need to improve. You quickly head to the bathroom to ensure your facial expression appropriately reflects the situation at hand–it should express a mix of seriousness, certainty (that you can improve) and of course be paired with a consistent nod that reads, “I take none of this personally.” You take a deep breath and now you’re ready.
You know feedback is a critical component of growth, so why is it so difficult to hear? Next time you are on the receiving end of feedback, here are some things to keep in mind.
There is no failure. Only feedback.
We know we are not perfect beings, yet the workplace is the last place where we give ourselves permission to make mistakes. Ask yourself two questions:
- Do you value continuous growth and improvement?
- Do you want to work in an environment that values continuous growth and improvement?
If you are nodding “yes” to both questions, then think of feedback as a mechanism for correction–its primary purpose is to help you become better and hold you to those values.
Feedback usually highlights areas of improvement that we often miss when assessing ourselves. While this can make you self-conscious, focusing on the growth and not the gaffe will ultimately leave you feeling self-confident. Shift your focus away from the deficit. Yes, you could be better, but instead focus on the fact that now you know how to be better.
To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.
You know how you like your coffee, your tea, and your eggs–but you don’t know how you like your feedback?
Communication is at the core of any relationship–personal and professional–and receiving feedback can be even more confusing and uncomfortable when things are lost in translation. My on-boarding experience for Girls Who Code was made all the more seamless when my supervisor had me complete a communication styles worksheet. Here are a few prompts that will help you:
- In which medium do you take feedback best: Are you visual? (Do you need to read it in front of you on an email, note, document, etc. in order to digest it?) In person? (Are you able to actively engage during sessions or do you prefer to just sit and listen?)
- What are your triggers? (That word that makes you automatically defensive.)
- What’s your best experience with feedback? Who delivered it?
- What’s your worst experience with feedback? Who delivered it?
- What are your experiences with feedback in the past?
- Is it helpful if you have a follow-up in a week, two weeks, a month?
- A clear understanding of your needs is also important because knowing how you best receive feedback means you can focus on the message, and not the messenger.
All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual.
Highlighting an error simply for the sake of highlighting an error is neither conducive to growth or a good use of anyone’s time. It’s important to know what you did wrong, but it’s even more critical to understand how you can do it better. Think of it like this: What’s the point of watching the game tape, if you aren’t going to come up with new plays?
If you find yourself at the end of an email or meeting without a clear articulation of methods for improvement–then empower yourself to ask. Try this:
- Do you have any suggestions on how I can improve?
- Is there someone in our office that excels in this area who I can talk to?
- Are there any resources you’d recommend?
- Do we offer professional development support for this skill?
Make feedback normal. Not a performance review.
Everything in life is about building muscle. The more you do something, the more you are exposed to it, the more you confront it–the less fearful you will be about it. Empty feedback–opinions sought for the sake of praise or perception of inclusion–are not beneficial. But real feedback–rooted in individual improvement and ultimately company advancement–is invaluable. If you’re not quite sure how to start the conversation, here’s some questions to get you going:
- Don’t ask: “What did you think?” While it’s a well-intentioned question, it often leads to nebulous answers with no tangible action points for improvement.
- Is there any area where I could have been more clear?
- Where did the group respond most favorably to my idea, article, email, etc.?
- If you were me, what’s one thing you may have done differently?
- Where did the group have the most resistance to my idea?
The more normal feedback becomes for you, the easier it will be for you to let it go. By seeking feedback consistently, it becomes less of a formula for emphasizing error and more about a support structure for improved, continuous action.
Ultimately feedback is both natural and necessary, especially in today’s work culture where organizations are constantly iterating. What worked at one time doesn’t necessarily lend itself to success in the future, and in order to keep up, everyone needs to be invested in the art and act of improvement. Feedback, advice, comments, thoughts, and even criticisms (constructive ones, of course) are key for growth and engagement.
No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better–because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.
—Jim Yong Kim
This article originally appeared on Idealist Careers and is reprinted with permission.