Getting it from the horses mouth, and using it: six tips for dealing with feedback

green cells seen under the microscopeEver felt under the microscope? In the last month I’ve had a critique from my Open University tutor, comments on an academic paper submission, feedback on presentation style and media skills, my 360 degree feedback from Ashridge (comments from 18 people I have worked for or worked with) and I’m working with two new sets of people, all of whom tell me straight. Its been feedback month for sure, and plenty more to come.


Such input is a popular subject – two of my Clore fellows were mulling on it for the Guardian blog site last week – so here are my six top tips.

1. Welcome it

Knowing what people think is always good – it gives you a wider view of the world and how people see you in it. It doesn’t mean you’ll always like what you hear, but you can choose to be grateful for hearing it. Say thanks.

2. Take your time

Dealing with feedback takes time – there is a lot of processing to do so don’t try and react to everything all at once. Sit with it, walk alongside it, get to know it. Good or bad, we need to give feedback time to make best use of it, to really understand what we can take from it.

3. Ignore the packaging

A great blog by Marisela Trevino Orta last year put me on to this. You may want your information in a particular way – and make sure when you give feedback thats how you deliver. However others haven’t always read your rulebook. People will give feedback in the way they choose, not the way you choose. Its your role to take it and then deal with it. Look at what they are saying and don’t get hung up on how they did so.

4. Sort out the layers

This is the feedback as onion skin one – comments and criticism tell you loads about you and also about the person who is giving them. Your job is to separate the two to find what is useful to you. And don’t peel off too many skins here – its easy to discount what someone is saying when you ‘read’ them in the mix. Don’t. Just gently lift away the part of it which relates to them, and work with the rest.

5. Reject some

There will always be some feedback you should reject. But do this only after careful consideration and for the right reasons, not simply because the giver upset you or you didn’t like how the comments were framed. Reject those you know aren’t the truth for you as you really see it deep down. Reject those that lead you away from your passion and your purpose.

6. Learn from the rest

The rest gives us valuable stuff we can learn from. We can’t work on it all, not all at once, but we can strive to improve – in relation to our work, in relation to ourselves – bit by bit. Maybe make a ‘feedback date’ once a month to come back to the core things you are working on and see how you feel. Is there shift? Are things moving? Have you thought of more techniques you can try?

Thats my aim for now – a series of end of the month feedback dates with myself and my stack of comments. I’ve a couple of key things I’m working on in April and something new flagged for May. Oh and bring it on – feel free to comment below!

Thanks to  Patrick Hoesly for the image and remember if you have enjoyed this and want to read more, you can subscribe to Jo Verrent’s blog by email.

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