Making the Most from Feedback

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Feedback is great. It’s an important and easily available way to learn more about your strengths and weaknesses, as well as to identify the best available opportunities to improve your level of productivity and success.

Of course, this is true only of feedback that comes honestly and earnestly from people who accurately see who you are and how you operate. That’s why it’s important to learn to distinguish between useful, helpful feedback and feedback from people who don’t really know what they’re talking about and/or are giving you feedback that’s more reflective of themselves rather than you.

But that’s a topic for another day.

Today I want to suggest three ways to get more value from any and all of the valid feedback that comes your way.

Lose Your Ego

One of the most common errors people make when receiving feedback is to filter it through the needs of their own ego. This tends to make them:

  • Justify or explain away any negative parts of the feedback, so they can tell themselves there’s nothing wrong with their attitude, skills, or behavior and therefore no need to do anything different in the future.
  • Focus heavily or exclusively on any positive parts of the feedback, so they can tell themselves they’re on the right track and doing the best that can be expected.

Either way, your ego is blocking you from getting maximum benefit from the feedback. It’s better to try and treat the feedback objectively, as if it applied to someone else, so you can absorb and make use of the raw information – both positive and negative – and thereby obtain the maximum benefit.

To stay more objective about feedback, trying breaking down the comments into separate elements, as follows:

Take the Positive

When feedback affirms what you already know and like about yourself, take it as an occasion for a mini-celebration. From time to time, you deserve a pat-on-the-back for your positive traits, useful skills, and valuable successes.

However, you should also help prevent the feedback from giving you a “swelled head” by considering how the positive feedback might deserve to be shared with others, and also how you might help others you know to develop whatever just got praised in you.

Accept the Negative

When feedback points to a trait or a behavior that needs improvement, don’t take it as a criticism. Turn it around toward the positive by accepting it as an opportunity to do better in the future.

In some cases, a little honest introspection or consultation with people you trust will confirm that you’re not totally surprised by this feedback. You already knew or at least suspected it to be true. Accepting a measure of negative feedback in this way can motivate you to reconsider what you’ve done and to find ways to do better next time.

You may also benefit by considering how your work and your life can improve if you make the appropriate changes to which this negative feedback points.

Be Open to the Unexpected

While any valid feedback is important, feedback that’s unexpected can be particularly helpful. Unexpected information can open the door to new self-awareness, and shake you up in areas of your work and your life where you’ve been too complacent.

Unexpected feedback can be positive – triggering joyful feelings and increasing your self-satisfaction – or negative – creating pockets of worry and concern.

Most of us feel comfortable responding to positive surprises. We enjoy them. But when we hear unexpected negative feedback, we often switch to a defensive attitude that blocks us from receiving any benefit from the information.

Instead, it’s helpful to think more openly and receptively about the negative feedback:

  • How well does it conform to what other people are feeding back to you?
  • How much more do you need to find out to fully understand this negative feedback?
  • What changes can you make to minimize or eliminate the reasons you’re receiving this negative feedback?
  • What benefits might flow to you and others from making these changes?

Valid feedback from trusted sources can open the door to positive changes that you’ll appreciate for many years to come.

That’s why it’s important you take feedback gratefully, and accept both the positives and the negatives as starting points for self-improvement.

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