Challenges of feedback and how to use it

April 12, 2011 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Tips

How do you handle feedback? Do you take it well? Do you know how to use it?

If not, you may be throwing away great opportunities to improve yourself and your life.

Many people don’t know how to take a compliment or having their weaknesses pointed out so they avoid feedback.

As a coach in Columbia Business School‘s Program on Social Intelligence, I coach a lot of upcoming leaders who just received their first 360 feedback report. A few things I point out to many of them applies to all feedback, not just formal reports. Some things may sound obvious in the abstract, but in the moment, when you’re reading people’s opinions about you, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture and take things very personally.

First, feedback from others doesn’t tell you strictly about your abilities, so if someone says you’re strong or weak in an area, that statement isn’t just about your abilities. It’s about your abilities, filtered through how you communicate them through your behavior, filtered through their perception, filtered through their memories, filtered through how they communicate.

You can’t avoid all that filtering. On the one hand you’d like to get direct information on your abilities so you know what to work on. On the other, all the things that filter — perception, memories, communication — however intangible, are essential elements of leadership.

Recognizing all that filtering can be liberating for some, especially those who took low ratings personally. One student I worked with was criticized for perceiving others, with specific comments that he didn’t listen well. He was shocked because he felt he had great listening skills. After only a few minutes talking, it was obvious to me he listened well too. In fact, he was incredible. After a few minutes more, though, the reason for the criticism was clear: he listened so well he interrupted as soon as he caught the other person’s meaning. Interrupting, of course, no matter how well he understood the others, will always motivate people to criticize his listening skills.

From his perspective, realizing the problem wasn’t his listening, per se, but his ability to communicate his understanding and to be patient was tremendously liberating. He knew what to work on and he knew to reinterpret the whole report.

(Also from his perspective, he didn’t interrupt with the intent to be rude. He intended to save them time. I’ll post later about how many perceived weaknesses tend to be different values, unrecognized.)

Second, the reports only cover the past and a mix of a couple different points in the past: when the person responded to the questionnaire, remembering your behavior before then, with memories fading and changing in between.

One of the most important things to realize about these feedback reports, which is true of all feedback, is how to use them. You can’t change the past, but you can use it to improve the present and future.

This post on something called feedforward is essential as well. Feedforward is one of the best tools for improving your life as well.

Leadership isn’t about having perfect skills. It’s about your relationships with others, awareness of your motivations, and ability to act on them effectively.

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1 response to “Challenges of feedback and how to use it

  1. Pingback: » How to find strengths in your weaknesses Joshua Spodek

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