If I asked you “do you want to grow and improve?” I have no doubt that your answer would be “yes!” Who doesn’t want to grow or improve? Yet to do so requires sometimes hearing stuff that we’d prefer NOT to hear.
What usually happens, when someone offers you feedback? If you’re like me, your very first reaction would be to get defensive. This happened to me recently. Following an article I wrote, one of my readers sent me some feedback. He started off by telling me that when he saw the title, he was anxious to read it, because he wanted to improve. This is exactly what he said “As a person struggling to step into maturity, responsibility, discipline etc. so that my life can improve, I dove head first into it. Though my secondary level English is good, I found this article difficult to follow, and I therefore respectfully request that your future writings be made a little easier for us “laypersons” desperately seeking to improve ourselves.”
So I’ve already admitted that I got defensive. Why? Because I felt that there was nothing “difficult” about my writing style so what was this guy talking about? Thankfully I read his response again and first told myself that regardless of what I FELT, this is what a reader thought and thankfully he was gracious enough to share that with me. So after my short ego trip I boiled down like baghi and replied “Thanks so much for writing and providing the feedback. It’s interesting what you’ve said about the language because most people have told me that the reason why they enjoy reading my articles is because I’m so down to earth and it’s almost as if I’m having a conversation with them. I will re-read the article to which you refer and also keep your great feedback in mind when writing future articles. With gratitude…” I thought it would end there but he surprised me with a follow up response “Thanks so much for your response. I look forward for your future articles, because I – and I guess much of our country- need all the help we can get. Thanks for making a difference.”
Entrepreneur Amy Rees Anderson says “There are many different defensive strategies used when a person is feeling challenged, criticized, or corrected: They will deny, make excuses, challenge, rationalize, explain, justify, blame, avoid, withdraw, or go on the attack (just to name a few). To a person on the defensive, any new knowledge feels threatening and they are unable to see any side but their own. Learning and growth become impossible when a person is defensive.” She goes on to suggest “Given that our desire is to grow and improve, and given that we cannot grow when we are defensive, it is imperative to take steps to avoid this response. The most important element in avoiding it is to listen. Sometimes when hearing feedback, we must force ourselves to take a deep breath, or, if necessary, ask to be excused for a moment so you might step away and regain your composure. Then we can return with a clear head, ready to actively listen.”
Unconsciously, what I did, when I re-read the feedback I got was to take a deep breath and LISTEN not JUDGE.
Here are a couple of great tips I got from reading Amy’s article on the Forbes blog “If You Want to Improve, Stop Defending, Start Listening”:
- If, while receiving feedback, you are feeling attacked, feel comfortable to express you are feeling that way in a calm and respectful tone. It may very well be that the other person isn’t even aware that their tone is causing you to feel threatened, and your expressing your feelings might help them be more sensitive with their approach.
- As the other person is talking, look for areas you can agree with them. Finding these areas of common agreement will help both parties to feel collaborative rather than combative.
- If you truly can’t find any points to agree with then ask for specific examples, not in an accusatory way, but in a way to show that you have a genuine desire to better understand their point of view by seeking examples that will help illustrate the problem more clearly for you.
- Be quick to apologize when you should. Doing so shows a tremendous amount of maturity and respect for the other person. It shows that you are willing to be accountable for your behavior and it demonstrates that you can be trusted to take responsibility for your actions.
- Stay on topic. Don’t use the conversation as a way to start bringing up your own grievances that are unrelated to the current discussion – that is a destructive tactic that only manipulates you into believing that you are superior to the other person and therefore don’t need to listen.
- After hearing the other person out with an open mind, if you are still struggling with their point of view, simply thank them for sharing their views with you and let them know that you genuinely want to take time to ponder what they have said, stating that you will come back to them after you have given it more thought.
Think about how much we miss, when we cling to our point of view, way of thinking, being and doing. Think about how many casualties we leave in our wake when we insist that we are RIGHT and everyone else is WRONG. Think about how ridiculous we look when we say with our mouths that we appreciate feedback but when we get it we kill the messenger. And finally think about how little we will grow or improve in isolation, stupidly believing that there is little more for us to learn and we’ve reached the pinnacle of our growth.
I am so thankful that this gentleman was willing to take the time to provide me with feedback and am grateful that I allowed myself to LISTEN. Amy said something else that I feel I’m going to jot down on a 3 x 5 card and keep on my desk: “Remember that truly confident people are able to listen respectfully to other perspectives, then genuinely consider and evaluate if there is truth in what others are saying. They are able to do all of this without feeling that other perspectives are in any way diminishing their own.” Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to learn, grow and improve. Don’t skip the breakfast of champions!