Nobody likes being told that they messed up. Or that they could have done better. Or that they missed the mark. Getting that kind of feedback sucks.
High performing leaders – women especially – tend to have a complicated relationship with feedback. Maybe that’s because we’re hard enough on ourselves already and don’t feel equipped to handle an honest critique. Maybe it’s because we’re so attached to perfectionism that being reminded of where we’re falling short would be too painful. Or maybe we’ve got a bad case of the disease to please. Regardless of the underlying why, it’s no secret that most of us are way more comfortable getting positive feedback. It makes us feel liked, appreciated, and safe.
But here’s the thing: real, true, honest feedback isn’t meant to make you feel good (although sometimes it might). It’s meant to help you grow, adapt, and become a better version of yourself. If you’re reading this, I already know that you’re serious about being a top performer. You want to be the best you can be. And you aren’t going to get there by avoiding constructive criticism or only focusing on the kind of feedback that makes you feel good. That’s not where the growth is. But you probably already knew that.
The question is, how do you get comfortable handling the kind of feedback that might sting, but will ultimately help you grow?
How to Get Comfortable with Feedback
You’ve got goals. You’re going to make it to the C-level. You’re going to build a high-performing team. You’re going to start that company. I totally believe that. But, I think we both know that you’re not going to achieve everything you aspire to without growing along the way. And that starts with feedback.
Practice Makes Feedback Less Scary
Choosing to expose yourself to negative feedback more regularly can help to desensitize you. The more often you experience yourself receiving constructive criticism, the less it’ll hurt. And if you’re not dwelling on how much it sucked to get tough feedback, you can spend more time figuring out what you’re going to do with it.
Learn How to Ask For It
If you want to get more comfortable with constructive feedback, you need to start asking for it. That means following up with your boss after a presentation, asking your team how you’re doing as a manager, or checking in with your mentor to ask her honest opinion about what skills she thinks you need to sharpen.
When you make the ask, go beyond vague, open-ended questions like “how did I do?” Instead, dig deeper with questions like, “what’s the one thing you wish I’d done differently during that meeting?” Don’t let people off the hook. Make it clear that you really do want to know what they think.
And don’t forget to say “thank you.” No matter what the person says. Even if you don’t agree. They’ve given you a gift – even if the wrapping paper is ugly. Plus, expressing your appreciation will help to ensure that they’ll continue to provide you with real, honest feedback in the future.
Reframe Your Perspective
Remember that the feedback you receive isn’t about you. It’s about your work. And that’s very different. If you did a bad job with a product launch, that doesn’t mean that you are bad. It means that your performance could have been better. Separate yourself from your work.
You are not your work.
Try thinking about getting constructive feedback as gathering valuable information. Even if you don’t think the feedback is valid, you can still learn something. Feedback says a lot about the person delivering it, too. By analyzing what they say, you can begin to understand things about the person’s work style, preferences, and even whether or not you’ll be able to work together in the long term. That means you can decide: am I going to stay and improve, am I going to move on, or am I not going to seek out this person’s advice again in the future? That’s incredibly valuable.
And remember, feedback will help you grow. You can’t get to the next level if you aren’t striving to be better. Every piece of constructive criticism is helping you get that much closer to achieving your goals.
Learn How to Deliver Feedback Yourself
We’re often just as uncomfortable delivering constructive feedback as we are receiving it.. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We want everyone to like us. We don’t want to be discouraging or overly critical.
Throw that out the window.
Practicing giving others direct, honest feedback will benefit you and the person receiving it. Not only are you helping them grow (or at least helping them learn about how you operate), but you’ll have an easier time putting blunt criticism into perspective the next time you receive it. If you understand how hard it might be for someone to give you truthful feedback, it will be easier for you to appreciate the gift they’re giving you – even if it’s not coming in a very pretty package.
I know how awesome positive feedback makes you feel. But I can promise you that it’s not going to help you get where you want to go. Do you know what will? Being brave. Seeking out honest feedback. Shifting your perspective. Committing to delivering constructive feedback in the most straightforward way you can. That’s how you grow.
Constructive feedback is a signal from your environment and the people around you that you can use to adjust your behavior, shift your mindset, and enhance your performance. It empowers you to grow into the effective leader you want to be and to achieve your goals. When you don’t seek it out, you’re doing yourself a big disservice. You’re limiting your potential.
Stop hiding from feedback. Go out there and ask for it. Then, turn it into fuel.