The Unrivaled Leader : Part 3 – How to TAKE Feedback

To misquote an old Seinfeld episode where he arrived at a car rental location and they had his reservation but not his car:


“Anyone can take a reservation! They key is to hold the reservation.”

Anyone can receive feedback.  Heck, just use some of the suggestions in Part 2 and you’ll be getting a whole lot of feedback!   But how do you make this feedback stick?  How do you TAKE it?  What do you do with that feedback?  Well, that’s why we’re here, right?

    • First and foremost, think about how you’d want your boss to behave when he asked you for feedback on her/him?  That should guide your behavior in general, but specifically when listening to feedback.  As you are providing input to your superior, what do you want them to do?  Picture in your mind a session where you’re giving your boss feedback and she/he is behaving exactly as you want them to.  What does that look and sound like? That is a clue as to how you should behave.
    • When receiving feedback, unless it becomes insulting or denigrating, just sit and listen.  Shut up.  Do not offer debate or contradiction.  Let the person and give them your undivided attention.
    • No matter how crazy the feedback is, think yourself “could this possibly be true?”  After all, someone thinks this, so it’s a perception.  And this perception could be held by many.  Just consider the possibility.  Could this possibly be true?
    • Watch your body language.  Don’t sigh, roll your eyes or deflect.  Be respectful and professional.  This is ESPECIALLY true if you’re receiving feedback from a group.  How you behave when receiving feedback immediately paints your staff’s perception of you.   Don’t interrupt and provide your perspective.

Once you have received the feedback:

    • Don’t necessarily attempt to solve the problem at that very moment.  If you can, then that’s great.  Otherwise, take notes and make sure you get back to the person.
    • If you’ve been asked to solve particular problems, make it a priority to do so and report back.  If you are asked to solve things that cannot be solved, report that as well.  Just provide accurate and timely feedback.  Make sure you close out the request.  You’re either going to act upon the feedback or not.  If you’re not, make sure people know why and then move on.
    • Be humble.  Thank the person for the feedback.  They’re going out on a limb and taking the time to educate you on something you may not be perceiving.  It’s a great service that not everyone will partake in.  So many people just quietly grumble or spread bad negative information rather than taking the time to tell you what’s on their mind.  Others are in need of assistance, whether with tools or support.  Others just need someone to listen to their concerns, even if you cannot solve them.
    • In a group setting, if the feedback is hostile, insulting or tries to “incite a riot” by getting others to join in, you need to diffuse this.   It’s important and completely acceptable to cut the feedback short and ask everyone to please be polite.  Alternatively, you can ask if this can be discussed privately or at a later time (maybe right after the meeting).
    • Be self-deprecating.  Don’t take yourself too seriously or act in shock or get irritated, as if you are beyond reproach.  If the feedback you are receiving is total nonsense, you’ll be able to address that at a separate time.  Don’t be sarcastic or ridicule the person providing the information.

The bottom line is that it’s a service that someone is performing when they bravely provide feedback.  You can’t ask your managers or lower staff to seek and accept feedback if you are not willing to do the same.  Most importantly, there is going to be feedback that is 100% accurate and, if received and acted upon, will improve you as a leader.

Finally, as will be discussed in a later Part, acting in this way – asking for feedback, really listening and acting on the feedback received – makes you a strong and admired leader, and this will only increase the respect your team will have for you.  By receiving feedback, your staff will be more willing to receive and heed your feedback to them.  It’s literally a win-win.

Anecdote: A while ago I was part of a focus group that was called together to provide one of my superiors feedback.  That person was at our table, and their job was to ask for feedback and write it down dutifully.  Instead of doing that, this person continued to remark “That’s not true!”  or “Really?  Really?  How can you feel that way?”  If it weren’t for the fact that they were bungling this session to the point of being funny, those of us providing feedback would have been upset.  The message to us was “we don’t really want your feedback”.  

But YOU do.

Next: Part 4 – Don’t Bullshit


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