Embracing feedback


I am a somewhat timid soul when it comes to learning things that I would consider negative (or distressing) about myself through the eyes of others. I know, I know – I write about the importance of getting feedback all the time. I coach leaders on asking for feedback and being able to take in what they hear. I know that feedback is essential for growth as human beings and as leaders.

It’s hard to listen to honest critical feedback, but I really am working on it. I regularly ask clients for immediate feedback about a coaching session and request their feedback more generally as we progress in our work together. “What can I do better?” “How can I better support you?” and “Is there something I’m doing that I need to stop doing?”. I wait to hear the responses, sweat trickling down my back, for the answers.

But I don’t really want to hear the bad things about myself. When it comes, I fool myself into thinking it might be better to ignore it. Or to blame the messenger. It hurts sometimes, and it isn’t always true (so I tell myself).

Underneath the denial, the hurt, the not wanting to listen, I know I need to hear these things, because they will make me a better person and leader.

Are you like me?

I suspect there are lots of us out there. Instead of stressing out about the feedback we receive, we can think a little harder about it. Try the following next time you receive less-than-favorable feedback:

Is there truth in this? We can choose our response to learning about our failings. I like the question about “truth” because it allows me to think a little deeper about what truth is in this instance and it leads into the next big question.

Does it matter that someone else sees this darkness in me? Why does it matter? Another way to choose how you’ll respond (or not) to what you’ve heard is to consider whether it matters to you and others. I like to think that most of the time my less-than-ideal behaviors matter to me because they might not uphold my own values. But they might also matter because I’ve inadvertently hurt someone else.

Am I willing to take responsibility for any of this? This is the question that will move you forward to act on what you’ve you heard – or not. If you’re still not sure whether you want to take action, circle back to the question above. If you decide you’re not going to take responsibility then don’t be surprised when this feedback rears its head again later.

What do I want to do about it? If you’ve decided to take responsibility, this is the ultimate question. What actions do you want to take? I sometimes get stuck here, and you might too. Having a friend, colleague, coach, or manager who is a good listener might be able to assist you.

It’s not easy to embrace feedback – even when you’ve asked for it and it’s given in earnest. I hope spending reflective time with these questions will help.



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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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