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Giving and receiving feedback is challenging. In theory, we know receiving feedback helps us grow professionally and personally, but sometimes respond with anxiety, anger, and defensiveness. 

We even balk at the opportunity to help others meet their goals. After all, who wants to tell their employees what they could do better? 

How do you move past your hesitations to help yourself and others reach your full potential? How do you navigate professional relationships and the insecurities that come with feedback if your boss promotes you to a managerial position?

Tim Reitsma, the host of People Managing People podcast, spoke with MoreCo co-founder, Matthew Gould, about the psychology behind why we react poorly to feedback and how to give and receive feedback more gracefully. 

Let’s dive into their guidance to help you lead and manage a team and organization more effectively. 

Feedback Is A Gift

In his book, Leading from Your Heart: The Art of Relationship Based Leadership, Gould defines feedback as a gift.

To be in a relationship with anyone, I need feedback. I need to know if this is working. Is this not working? What do we need more of? What do we need less of?

Many times, our immediate reaction to feedback may be negative, but we often forget that the purpose of feedback is to improve us. Betterment isn’t negative; it’s an opportunity, or as Gould says, a gift. It’s time to reframe how we think about feedback. 

Gould gives the example of attending a concert. Before the event, the band and technicians do a sound check to make necessary adjustments for an optimal sonic experience. If the musicians decided to wing it without a sound check, they would put the quality of the concert at risk. 

Remove any adjective that comes before feedback. Then it’s just feedback—it’s not charged with anything.

Gould recommends removing adjectives that come before feedback (i.e., negative feedback, positive feedback, constructive feedback) to avoid preconceived notions of how the conversation will unfold. He also wants you to reflect on your reaction to feedback. If you have a negative reaction, you’re listening to your ego. 

Put aside ego and individuality in favor of the team. If you miss a shot during a basketball game and your teammate offers feedback, like a position adjustment, you would listen and accept that feedback. 

Why Should You Value Feedback?

Part and parcel of any relationship is giving and receiving feedback. Here’s what you need to know about feedback to succeed.

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“Tell me more”—No feedback is dangerous

Your coworker says you’re coming across as a jerk. It’s never fun to hear criticism like that, especially when you have good intentions. But, feedback is better than silence. Keep in mind that being called a jerk isn’t the feedback. The feedback is what’s causing your coworker to perceive you as a jerk. 

It’s more dangerous not to want feedback. Giving feedback means a person cares. So, when someone comes to me with it, I respond with, “Tell me more.” 

Fear of feedback inhibits growth.

You’re riding a mountain bike when the path suddenly drops into steep, rocky terrain. Do you get off and walk, or do you risk falling to learn how to navigate this new terrain? 

The latter is a path toward growth. The fear of feedback results in the seemingly “safer” option of avoiding it. As a result, it inhibits your growth.

Feedback comes from a place of care.

More often than not, people give feedback because they care. Coaches don’t tell you why your defense isn’t up to par because they want you to fail, but because they want you to succeed. Whether in your office or your household, ‌foster a culture of care. Part of that care is providing effective feedback.

Here’s What You Can Do About Feedback

Approach feedback from a place of curiosity and possibility

Your coworker barges into your office, seething about an email you sent. Rather than respond with defensiveness or anger, ask questions and be open-minded. This will help you get to the root of the problem and come to an amicable resolution.

Put the feedback into action

You can listen to or give feedback with all the openness, but it’s useless if not implemented. The key to helpful feedback is to derive actionable takeaways from it. 

If you’re on the receiving end, ask: what can I do to implement this? On the other hand, if you’re giving feedback, try to suggest solutions with it.

Thank the giver for their feedback.

If feedback is a gift, then you should thank the giver. It encourages them to continue to communicate.

What do you do when you receive a gift? You say thank you. Imagine an environment where every time feedback was given; the response was, “Thank you so much.”

Listen to this episode of People Managing People here. Subscribe or peruse the website for great content, including tips and tricks for successful management.

Some further resources to help give and receive feedback: 

By Finn Bartram

Finn is an editor at People Managing People. He's passionate about growing organizations where people are empowered to continuously improve and genuinely enjoy coming to work. If not at his desk, you can find him playing sports or enjoying the great outdoors.