The Golden Rules of Tough Feedback

know the rulesFeedback comes in many forms: solicited, unsolicited, positive, negative, constructive, etc. Whether you’re in the C-suite or just starting your career, feedback is a crucial component to your development and career success. But we often fail to effectively solicit, deliver, and receive feedback. Here are 6 golden rules for handling tough feedback:

When Soliciting Feedback

  • Don’t ask unless you’re ready to act! That’s the number one rule for soliciting feedback. This is true whether you’re issuing a formal pulse survey to employees or informally asking a trusted colleague. In either instance, the other individual will expect you to do something constructive with the response they’ve provided. It takes courage to provide real, honest, constructive feedback. Reward that courage by actively listening to the information and considering what you can do to implement changes.
  • The further you move up the corporate ladder, the more difficult it will be to receive valuable feedback. The feedback you receive may be less honest and more infrequent than you need. If you don’t receive the formal feedback you need, you need to solicit feedback from informal channels like colleagues, customers, clients, and peers. Ask direct, specific questions and use follow-up questions to mine for more valuable information.

When Receiving Feedback

  • Ask for time and space. Naturally, after hearing tough feedback, you’ll experience a wide range of emotions: denial, anger, shock, embarrassment, etc. To logically approach the situation, you need time to reflect on the information presented to you. It can be very effective to say “Thank you for sharing this with me. I’d like to take a while to reflect on this and circle back with you. Would that be okay?” This gives you time to gather your thoughts and perhaps seek out other information instead of reacting based on emotions.
  • Ask lots of questions. When someone gives you tough feedback, it’s human nature to want to end that uncomfortable conversation as quickly as possible. In doing so, you may appear to be defensive and closed-minded. In addition, you often leave that conversation with more confusion than clarity. Ask why, how, and when. Why do you feel this way? When did this happen? How can I improve? This shows you are not only open to the information being given to you, but that you want to fully understand the issue so you can address it.

When Delivering Feedback

  • Knock before entering. It’s rude to burst through someone’s door uninvited and unannounced. The same goes for giving feedback. If the feedback is unsolicited, ask if/when the individual would like to hear your thoughts. A simple statement of positive intent before asking to give feedback can really set the tone for an open conversation. “John, I’ve been thinking about your presentation and have a few ideas for how you could improve even more on the foundation you’ve created. Would you be open to meeting to discuss them further?”
  • Don’t forget that the way you communicate feedback is just as important as the feedback itself. When you have tough feedback to deliver, remember that the goal is to inspire and motivate the other person to improve, not to leave them feeling embarrassed or defeated. Choose your setting, words, and tone to match that goal. Focus on areas of opportunity rather than failures. If you dwell on the negative, they will too.

Effectively asking for, delivering, and receiving tough feedback takes dedication, practice, and an open mind. Few people ever truly master this skill, but it’s one of the most important skills every leader must pursue.