The VP was delivering a stern lecture about my report. My face got hot and my shoulders tightened. I had been hired by this organization to lead a Human Resources project and received permission from the HR Director to survey all the directors about a) what they appreciated about working for the company and b) their recommendations for change. Unfortunately, I failed to get a sign-off from the senior leader who had commissioned the project and he believed we were off track and stirring up negativity. The HR Director and I left the meeting feeling deflated.
Negative feedback is an inevitable part of life. Research shows that people who are better at handling negative feedback tend to be more successful. A study by Leadership IQ found that 46% of newly hired employees fail within 18 months. Of those who fail, 26% do so because they can’t accept feedback.
We need feedback, good or bad, to stretch and grow. Mark Murphy, author of Hiring for Attitude says that high performers are often high performers specifically because they’re good at accepting feedback; they use it as fuel for personal growth. If we are resistant to feedback it usually means we are resistant to change.
Three tips for giving and receiving feedback:
Prepare yourself for the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Even when you don’t expect negative feedback, prepare for it: imagine the worst-case scenario. I made assumptions that the organization’s leader was open to the information I would report, that it would be of value to him as he planned for the future. And it was …in the end, but the surprise of reading it without any advance briefing put him on the defensive.
Take a step back and focus on the facts.
This will assist you to process your emotions while analyzing the feedback. Although the person providing feedback may be emotional, you control how you receive and process the information. Self-control is a skill that leaders develop and it sees them through the toughest situations. It was the first time the organization’s leader had heard the perceptions of trusted staff and he was puzzled about why they hadn’t spoken up before.
It’s hard to imagine being confident when feedback strikes a nerve. High performers look for feedback, knowing that it is important to their growth. Murphy states, “They understand that the feedback they’re getting is not an indictment of them personally.” They quickly learn that confidence grows when you take risks and embrace opportunity. You can stay safe in the shadows and avoid feedback, but if you want to learn and grow it means you eventually have to move into the light. It takes confidence to do that.
Feedback is important for all leaders. As Murphy puts it: “Nobody who’s doing anything worthwhile is going to skate through a situation without feedback.” Learning how to accept feedback and use it to your advantage takes practice. Whatever the case, it’s a worthwhile exercise that will support you throughout your life.