Defensive: It’s what we easily feel when we get tough feedback. In a flash, defensiveness (and anger, etc.) wall ourselves from words that sting. Even when the words are true.
Research suggests that we drop people who give us critical feedback. Don’t miss out like this! Tough feedback can really help us. If we know how to respond with professionalism and poise, we gain an extraordinary tool for improvement and empowerment. Few of our peers and competitors can match this ability.
Let me describe how to put aside reactive feelings and benefit from tough feedback.
1. Stay open (verbally and nonverbally).
Your tone of voice and body language should be sincere and fluid, not rigid in any way. Take notes if that helps you focus and listen on what is being said, not what you are going to say next. Aim for a tone of humility and sincerity. Keep eye contact, project thoughtfulness and say thank you if you can. Think “gracious.” This step is first because new actions help cue new thinking, especially in stressful situations.
2. View your critic as a helpful challenger.
The challenger is one of four archetypes that you really need in your life. This is the person who will push you out of your comfort zone, even (or especially) when you have made up your mind. Tough feedback from the challenger forces you to think through things in a different way, which leads to better decisions. As you listen to the tough feedback, consider it as a challenge that may help you reach a bigger-picture goal. This step is a way to shift your perspective.
3. Lean into curiosity.
Tough feedback is a moment where you have a choice: feel attacked or embrace what you can get from it. “Tell me more about that…” is a good way to communicate curiosity and respect, because it signals that you are listening. This step deflects emotion on both sides and creates a common ground to work to a mutually beneficial outcome.
4. Fill in a mental picture of behavior change.
Drill down to find out as much as you can about what isn’t working. Details are essential to understanding the perception of what needs to change. “Do you have any specific examples you can give me?” is a great question for this. Don’t assume that you understand what the feedback is about; tough feedback isn’t vague feedback! This step ensures that you are aware, accurately, of what is being communicated.
5. Own your responsibilities
Tough feedback is a great chance to review your personal mission statement to see if you can be more effective. Examine the tough feedback in light of your commitments, and you will find that owning your responsibilities—and shortcomings—can be empowering. This step helps ground you in who you are—and offers an opportunity to reflect on who you want to be when you are at your best.
6. Create a game plan.
Asking, “How can we go forward together?” is an offer of a mutual way to solve the issue. Sometimes you need to pause between the feedback and this step, but it is the most concrete way of communicating that you have heard, valued and considered the tough feedback and you are willing to respond positively. A game plan grows from a holistic approach to tough feedback based on good intentions, integrity and calm. This step doesn’t mean you will cave in!
Your Game Changer Takeaway
Managing tough feedback is an excellent skill to practice because few people come to it naturally. When you first adopt these six steps, you may have to “fake it till you make it.” Keep going! You will become a rare leader who welcomes tough feedback as an opportunity for understanding your potential for growth and meaning in the work that only you can do.
The Molly Fletcher Company inspires leaders, teams and organizations to kick-start growth. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working as a sports agent. Her company offers training and coaching programs to help leaders unleash their potential, including: Game Changer Negotiation Training, which teaches business people a framework for successful negotiating; The Energized Leader training, which teaches people how to manage their energy to achieve focus and freedom; and a monthly coaching program, Game Changer Leadership Huddles, to help members recharge their purpose and mindset. Sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.