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“Can I give you some feedback, Gill?”

How do you react when someone unexpectedly offers you feedback?

Intellectually most of us know that feedback should be helpful, that we should treat it as a friend. The problem is, particularly if unsolicited, feedback can feel like a foe. We don’t know in advance what’s inside the parcel. We don’t know what our reaction or the impact on our self image might be. We can experience feedback as a threat or personal attack. We can go back to a more basic, primeval response and reaction.

Which is your favourite or most frequent reaction?

Here are some common choices:

  1. Fight – you defend yourself. You move to argue back, discount or deny the feedback, justifying your own position.
  2. Fright – you avoid. You decline the offer of feedback, perhaps you say to the other person “it’s not quite the right moment”, or “can we defer the conversation to another time”, and then, it never is quite the right time.
  3. Appease – you suck up and defer towards the other person. You tell them you are incredibly grateful for the feedback, and agree with them, whatever you actually think.
  4. Freeze – everything suddenly goes very still within you, as if in slow motion, as if the world could end right now. You hear the feedback but afterwards you can’t remember what was said, just how you felt.

Would you like a different, more effective option to be available to you?

In my own professional development, I have learnt the value of centering. I have benefited from learning how to be more grounded, more “in my legs”, and to respond to feedback from a position of greater choice, calm and curiosity.

When someone offers you feedback, experiment. See if you can consider these questions in the moment, to increase your choice, calm and curiosity too.

  1. Is the feedback optional? Or can you behave as if it is an offer or an invitation? If yes, you are more likely to feel in control, in charge, and able to see the parts of the feedback useful to you.
  2. Can you influence how the feedback is given? For example, can you ask to talk in a more private place, or to get out of the heat of a difficult moment first? The more assertive you are, the more likely it will be that you are calm and receive feedback as an equal in the relationship.
  3. Can you clarify the feedback giver’s intention? Is the feedback solely about you (unlikely), or is it also influenced by their narrative, and their take on the situation (more likely). Can you use your curiosity to separate the two? Then you can work out how and if you want to change.

It’s taken me a long time to more genuinely experience unsolicited feedback as a friend, to view it as a gift from which I can learn and grow. It you would like some further ideas, tips and practical help on how to benefit and grow from feedback too, get in touch.

Gill is passionate about working with professionals to help them build their leadership skills, to achieve their desired results with their stakeholders and teams.

If you would like to meet Gill for a coffee, to explore how she could contribute to your individual success or to that of all managers in your organisation, please contact her here.

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Gill How

Helping leaders grow, step up and deliver outstanding results


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