Receiving feedback can be tough, but it’s critical to grow personally and professionally. How can you improve if you don’t know what to improve upon? Unfortunately, many people get defensive and make excuses when they get feedback. Reacting in this manner shuts down any curiosity about the perspective being shared and is a missed opportunity to grow as a person, better understand your impact on others, and improve in your job and relationships. Plus, handling it poorly increases the chance that you won’t get honest feedback in the future. This may sound ideal but it’s not. I can guarantee that people have feedback for you….they just don’t want to tell you. I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t want people telling me what they think I want to hear but feeling something different.
My goal is to be a fantastic manager and an inspiring leader and the only way to do that is by getting feedback, both good and bad. It’s very important to me that people feel comfortable telling me the hard stuff. To achieve that, I’ve had to develop feedback-taking skills. Here are some of my tips…
Just Say Thank You
The first thing I say when I am receiving feedback is, “Thank you. I really appreciate you sharing this with me.” This does two things. First, it puts the person who is giving me constructive criticism a little more at ease. It is never easy to give feedback and I can bet with high certainty that whomever is giving the feedback is nervous about my reaction. Second, it gives me time to process before haphazardly blurting out something that could make the situation go south. The key here is to listen actively and refrain from building your case as to why the person is wrong.
Ask Clarifying Questions
Because there is so much room for miss-interpretation in stressful conversations, asking good questions allows me to make sure I have a deep understanding of what is being shared (please read my blog here on how to improve your questioning skills). It also helps me pull more information out of the conversation. Because it’s nerve-wracking to give feedback, some people talk circles around the real issue or sugar coat it to make it easier to swallow. It’s a shame to walk away with something left unsaid, mixed messages, and an unclear path forward. Consider your tone when asking questions; you should be inquisitive and open not defensive or sarcastic.
Don’t Make Excuses
Depending on the feedback, it may be appropriate to explain myself. For example, further clarification may be required if someone misunderstood what you were trying to say therefore an explanation is helpful. But many times, giving an explanation can sound more like an excuse. There is a fine line between explanation, justification, and excuse making. Tread carefully here…sometimes it’s best to just say thank you and incorporate the feedback into your work or life without offering justification for your actions or behaviors. Interjecting with excuses is a sure-fire way to be labeled as unaccountable.
Ask for Time to Process
If I feel myself getting defensive and I can’t get it under control with a few deep breaths, I say, “this is a lot for me to process right now. May I have a bit of time to think about what you are saying and come back later to talk through it?” Most people need time to process feedback and it’s completely reasonable to ask for space to think. Plus, taking some time to ponder the feedback can help you assess its validity. Just make sure you set a time to circle back. You don’t want to blow off the person brave enough to share constructive criticism. Have an open mind and heart and resist the urge to defend yourself.
After receiving feedback, I try to be hyper-mindful of exhibiting these behaviors. There are always opportunities to stop doing or start doing the critiqued conduct. For example, if you were told you interrupt people, pay close attention to yourself when conversing with others. Notice when you find yourself wanting to interject…how do you feel and why do you want to add your $0.02? Were you able to stop yourself? If not, did you take accountability for interrupting and apologize? Being mindful and making in-the-moment course corrections are great ways to improve.
I work hard at being coachable, approachable and at taking feedback with grace. It’s not always easy and I certainly have screwed up my share of conversations because I let myself get defensive. But I’ve gotten better at it because I’m committed to growth and development as a person and leader. Just like any skill, you have to practice to get better at it. Looking back over the constructive criticism I’ve received, I am incredibly grateful for the people who have cared enough to share it with me. Each time, they have offered me a golden opportunity to take steps towards becoming the person I want to be. To all of you, I say, “Thank you for the feedback.”
Thanks for reading! As always, I welcome comments and appreciate likes and shares.
Leaders are everywhere. Some are easy to spot…they are C-level executives, presidents, managers, directors, coaches, and team captains. Others are not as obvious…they are individual contributors on a team, counselors, teachers, and volunteers. Leaders change our world, whether at a macro level or micro, for the good or bad.
Fortunately, there are many good leaders out there. Unfortunately, there are just as many bad ones.
Many attributes are used to define a great leader…honest, authentic, confident, a good listener and communicator, inspiring, committed, and hardworking, to name a few. But in my opinion, there is no attribute more important than accountability. Deep-rooted, blame-no-one, the-buck-stops-with-me kind of accountability. The kind of accountability that says, “I take complete ownership of what just happened. It’s my fault and no one else’s.”
Let’s face it, there is no such thing as a perfect leader. Every one of us makes bad decisions, says the wrong thing at the wrong time, gives poor direction, reacts badly, goes into denial, and screws up every now and then (or perhaps often). What separates the best from the rest is how a leader takes ownership for mistakes…not only of those he or she personally makes, but those of his or her team and organization as a whole.
It’s easy to fall in to the trap of blaming people and other outside forces for a given situation.
While all of these excuses might have some merit, they are just that: excuses. And if it isn’t your role as a leader to overcome these types of obstacles, whose role is it? If it’s not your responsibility to ensure that you’ve developed (or are part of developing) a high performing team, then whose responsibility is it? If it’s not your job to lead, then whose job is it?
Most of us understand the value of be accountable, but we stop short of true ownership because we put conditions on it. We are willing to take ownership as long as others do, too. We will take responsibility for part of the mishap, but only our part, because someone else screwed up, too. We convince ourselves that taking full ownership isn’t fair or that we shouldn't have to because it wasn’t 100% our fault. And even when we fess up and take our share of the blame, we justify why it happened with explanations and excuses. This is conditional ownership, not true buck-stops-with-me ownership.
The best leaders don’t just take responsibility for their own jobs, lives, and mistakes; they take responsibility for everything that happens to their teams and organizations, no matter what. They don’t look for people or events on which to pass blame. They look within themselves. It’s the job of a leader to create conditions of success and if success is fleeting, it’s ultimately his or her responsibility to fix it. You do it by refusing to make excuses, taking full responsibility for a lack of clear and strong leadership, surrounding yourself with smart and committed people, rolling up your sleeves to develop a plan of action, and fixing the mess that was created under your watch. There is no other way to lead then by being truly accountable for everything you say, do, and lead.
So the next time you find yourself blaming the market, management, or your less-than-high performing team, remember that leadership starts and stops with you. If something isn’t working, take action to fix it. Coach, mentor, and performance manage your people, but if you have to make the hard decision to remove someone who doesn’t have what it takes, make it. If you team isn’t on board with a new direction, ask yourself if you effectively shared “the why” (see my blog post on the importance of the why here). If senior management doesn’t “get it,” sit down with them to ask more questions, share your concerns and offer to be part of the solution. If morale is low, take responsibility for poor decision making and deficient communication and then make things better immediately. If the market tanks, accept it as a challenge to succeed despite it; come up with Plan B, C, and D and execute the least bad option. Make no excuses; take true ownership.
It takes an exceptionally strong leader to give his or her team full credit when all is going well, letting them bask in the glory of success while standing in the background. It takes and even stronger leader to say “this is my fault and only my fault” when things go wrong and the team or organization fails. The buck stops with you. Are you willing to fully own that?
Please feel free to share and like…it’s always appreciated. And thank you for reading!
A Quick Blurb on what this blog is about.
Welcome to my blog! My name is Kerry Siggins and plain speaking, honest leadership is my mantra. My intention is to help those who lead (or want to lead) become better at saying and doing what needs to be said and done in a way that it can be heard and seen, one person at a time.