As coaches and leadership development consultants we pride ourselves in helping others understand the efficacy of giving and receiving feedback. I am often quoted as saying feedback is a gift and people are starved of feedback especially in organisational life.
It is interesting then to note my own defensiveness with regard to feedback especially when it comes out of nowhere or is a complete surprise.
I was recently asked to be a guest speaker for a large publically quoted group who were interested in understanding more about leadership development and in particular Executive Coaching.
worked hard to illicit from the client what would make for an interesting engagement and to determine where the audience was with respect to their own leadership style and levels of self awareness.
Armed with my information I set about not to tell but to share some developments pertaining to coaching and how it might support the leadership cadre of the company concerned.
After the work was prepared, the speech delivered and I had left for my return journey I felt pretty confident that I had engaged with my audience and that my story was well received. Wrong? My talk bombed. I was told later by my potential client that the audience had failed to see the relevance of my offer and regrettably for me would not be entertaining the notion of coaching anytime soon. I was aghast.
In retrospect I have learned. I have done a considerable amount of introspection since and realise that the time I spent and the work I did is not all in vain. I have to revisit my story and make it compelling, irresistible, thought provoking and leave my audience curious, not deadened by information.
In starting out, we think or at least I think, I have to rely on my intellectual credibility to convey my message. I forget that my presence and confidence as a business women and coach is what my clients are buying. They want to know that what I offer will resolve some of their leadership angst.
There was learning for me too in the actual process of receiving the feedback
Any criticism can be hard to accept. But surprise feedback — criticism that seems to come from nowhere, about an issue we haven’t perceived ourselves — is the hardest. We’re far more likely to be defensive.
Because it’s not just about admitting, it’s about perceiving. Before we can accept something, we have to become aware of it. The criticism or feedback I received to my speech completely blindsided me. I had no idea people would react the way they did, no sense that I was not hitting their sweet spot.
That kind of feedback exposes you to yourself, which is why it is both tremendously unsettling and exceptionally valuable. It’s also why our defensiveness is so predictable and so counterproductive. The things we most need to hear are often the things we defend against hearing the most.
I was delighted then to come accross a blog posted by Peter Bergmann in the HBR. Like me he opined the difficulty of receiving feedback that comes from left field. His tips for receiving feeback are provided below; He suggests;
“To take in surprise criticism more productively, we need a game plan. As you listen to the criticism and your adrenaline starts to flow, pause, take a deep breath, and:
Look beyond your feelings. We call it constructive criticism and it usually is. But it can also feel painful, destabilizing, and personal. Notice, and acknowledge — to yourself — your feelings of hurt, anger, embarrassment, insufficiency, and anything else that arises. Recognize the feelings — label them even — and then put them aside so the noise doesn’t crowd out your hearing.
Look beyond their delivery. Feedback is hard to give, and the person offering criticism may not be skilled at doing it well. Even if the feedback is delivered poorly, it doesn’t mean it’s not valuable and insightful. Not everything will be communicated in “I” statements, focused on behaviors, and shared with compassion. Avoid confusing the package with the message.
Listen, and don’t agree or disagree. Just collect the data. If you let go of the need to respond, you’ll reduce your defensiveness and give yourself space to really listen. Criticism is useful information about how someone else perceives you. Make sure you fully get it.
That means asking questions to further explore what you’re being told. Probe, solicit examples, play the devil’s advocate, pushing the criticism back on itself, in the spirit of understanding it more fully.”
Later, with some distance, decide what you want to do. Data rarely forces action, it merely informs it. Recognizing that the decision, and power, to change is up to you will help you stay open.
Once you’ve got some time, space, and grounding, think about what you heard — what the data is telling you — and make choices about if, what, and how, you want to change.
Sometimes, you’ll choose to change your behavior.
But sometimes, you’ll decide not to change your behavior. That perhaps, you’re better off staying the same and changing your surroundings or your clients.
Criticism can be an incredible gift, a field guide for acting with impact in the world. All we need is enough patience and presence to hear it.