Easy Responses for Difficult Feedback
All feedback is good feedback. And if you ask for feedback, there are only two appropriate responses to whatever you get in return:
1: “Thank you for your feedback.”
Someone has taken the time to tell you what they think, so they deserve a polite acknowledgement. If you disagree with the feedback, that’s fine, but keep that to yourself. In the world of feedback, perception is reality. If my colleague tells me that he finds me intimidating, now is not the time to tell him to toughen up, or that I’m really a pussycat. Whether I actually am intimidating is neither here nor there for the moment. This is information that someone thinks I am intimidating, and information is something I can use, or not. (Maybe I want to soften my image. Maybe I want to be gentler on just this one teammate. Maybe I don’t want to change anything. I get to choose.)
2: “Please help me understand your feedback.”
Some feedback needs further clarification. Being told I’m “a bit quiet” could mean I have a soft voice, or that I don’t speak up very often, and if I want to do something about it I need to know which. So ask for more information, but be careful. It’s very easy to step over the line from openly seeking clarification to getting drawn into trying to defend yourself. (“What do you mean I’m too quiet? I talk to you all the time!”) Try to limit your questions, and keep them as open as possible. “Can you give me an example of where that happened?” is always a valid response. Sometimes people can’t remember an example, so it’s fine to say “Can you let me know if I do that again?”
Even if someone’s opinion is demonstrably wrong, imagine it prefixed with “I think…” and it becomes a piece of information, which you can deal with as you choose.
This all applies to good feedback as well as ‘constructive criticism’. So if you find yourself deflecting compliments or arguing with them, stop! It doesn’t matter whether you agree or not, just say “thank you”, you can decide later what to do with the new information.