How I learned to love feedback and how you can, too.

 I used to hate getting feedback. Performance reviews, observations, and peer work sessions in professional learning communities all made my stomach turn. I’m not perfect and I’m aware of it; being told about my imperfections felt just awful. But then I learned to look at feedback differently - I learned what feedback is and isn’t, I learned when it has value and when it doesn’t, and I learned how to use feedback to my advantage, to propel myself forward towards my goals; I learned to love getting feedback. I’ve had a lot of mentors in my many professional lives and I’ve had even more supervisors and managers, but the majority of those who gave me important feedback throughout my professional endeavors didn’t even consider how I felt about their feedback and if it was helpful. So, once I figured that out for myself, I have become a bit of a feedback evangelist. The following is my guide for learning to love feedback.

The first step in learning to love feedback is to step back and acknowledge the difference between feedback and criticism. Both feedback and criticism involve evaluation, but they have very different purposes. The Oxford Dictionary defines feedback as “information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.”[1] And criticism is defined as “the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.”[2] While it is possible to benefit from criticism (think constructive criticism), it’s fundamentally focused on perceived faults and mistakes, so you’re not likely to receive it completely positively. As feedback is focused on providing a basis for improvement, it can inherently build us up.

Why does the difference between feedback and criticism matter?

Well, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been given feedback that was really criticism. I’ve heard and seen references to the value of feedback, especially in the fields of Learning & Development, as well as references to the importance of ‘accepting’ feedback, even regardless of the delivery – “Feedback is gold, even if it’s wrapped inside a brick.” While I thoroughly support the value of feedback, I couldn’t disagree more about the delivery, mostly because if someone is going to be lazy about delivery, then why even bother to give the feedback. But, the most important reason I disagree with those attitudes is that it’s trying to pass off criticism as feedback and that, in my humble opinion, is disrespectful in any setting and especially in a professional setting.

What should you do when you receive criticism instead of feedback? Begin by reminding yourself that the way someone else is treating you is primarily a reflection of them and not reflection of you. Next, after you hold a little space for the sting of the criticism, step back and consider if there is anything actionable or helpful in the criticism-pretending-to-be-feedback? If there isn’t anything, let it go. If there is, separate it from the poor delivery and move on to your action – do you want to address it? If so, how will you do that?

The next step in learning to love feedback is to consider and, possibly, adjust your mindset. Mindsets are the assumptions or beliefs that are held by either an individual or a group of people. I first learned of the theories and ideas around mindsets and their influence on motivating behavior in graduate school and then a few years later I used the work of Carol Dwek to support my students’ in the development of their growth mindsets. Those experiences led me to view myself and my potential differently than I had before and to also feel and use feedback differently. When I was able to shift my mindset to fully and deeply believe that I could do whatever it was I was willing to work towards, I began to feel differently about feedback.

Last month I stumbled upon a new book about mindsets, called Success Mindsets by Dr. Ryan Gottfredson. His research and consulting work led him to develop a personal mindset assessment, available on his website. I really enjoyed the depth of analysis in this assessment, as he’s created an easily consumable report that isn’t bogged down in jargon or overly complex explanation of theory. I first took this assessment when I was beginning to get responses from the many applications I submitted after the first of the year and found the data about my personal mindsets helpful as I navigated the variety of feedback, I received in the job search process. To help you, I turned my process into a worksheet you can get here.

Once I recognized that feedback and criticism are not the same thing and after I developed my mindset to support me in pursuing my goals, I need to focus on my own improvement. And feedback was the best way to do that, but I had to seek it out. I believe the most useful feedback is the feedback we pursue, not the feedback that is forced on us. The last step in learning to love feedback is to ask for it frequently and then, after receiving the feedback, establish a plan for how you’ll use it. To do this, I ask myself these questions:

  1. A)   What do I feel most confident about in this _________ [project, application, infographic]?
  2. B) What do I want feedback to be focused on?
  3. C) Who can give me the feedback I want and can use?

 

Using those questions, I formulate my request. Here is an example:

Hi Erika (C – a very thoughtful colleague is particularly quick and thorough),

I have a draft of my storyboard the Acme Manufacturing project that I would really appreciate you looking at for me. (A) I think I’ve established a clean template for the visuals, but (B) I’d love to know if the voice in the branching scenarios is consistent.

I appreciate your time and value your feedback.

Thanks,

Molly

If you really want to grow and improve, you must be willing to solicit and then use feedback to change your own behaviors, approaches, and ideas. To help you get started, use this worksheet to plan your own feedback requests.

 

Written by: Molly Parsons

Connect with Molly on LinkedIn.

Molly is an instructional designer and eLearning developer focused on learner engagement and recently started a new position on an enterprise learning team working on a large-scale, multi-dimension software training project. She is passionate about all things learning and is especially focused on executing L&D projects with attention to learner needs – she loves to tinker with eLearning tools but is quick to point out that eLearning isn’t the right tool for every training or development need. She currently calls the PNW home but has lived in 7 states and 3 other countries, and she has the cooking repertoire to prove it.

[1] http://english.oxforddictionaries.com/feedback

[2] http://english.oxforddictionaries.com/criticism

 

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