Most people avoid giving feedback because they’re concerned about (don’t want to deal with) the other person’s defensive response. It’s easier to say nothing than deal with someone’s defensiveness. So, we say things are fine when they’re not.
If you want people to tell you the truth, do the opposite of what they expect when responding to feedback. Rather than become defensive, say, “thank you.”
Saying “thank you for the feedback” is not intended to be a Pollyanna response, nor does it mean you agree and that the person is right. Saying “thank you” catches the other person off guard (in a good way) and buys you time to think and respond calmly, making it more likely that you’ll get feedback in the future.
Each of us wants to be thought well of and be seen as competent. Negative feedback calls both into question and the brain responds defensively. The challenge is that defensive responses scare other people into silence. And you only need to get defensive once for people to believe that you don’t deal well with feedback.
Don’t underestimate the power of your emotions and ego. You are likely to respond to feedback defensively, even if you don’t see yourself do it. A seemingly benign ‘explanation’ of why you did something as you did it, is seen as defensive and is thus off putting to others.
Here are six strategies for responding to feedback well:
Have feedback conversations when you have the time to listen and are rested. If you’re tired, on a deadline, or rushing to your next meeting, the conversation will not go well.
If someone catches you off guard with feedback and you know you won’t respond well, interrupt the person. Tell them that you appreciate them bringing this to your attention and you want to give the conversation the attention it deserves, but now isn’t a good time. Schedule a time to finish the conversation within a few days.
Have a plan for how you’re going to respond to scheduled/planned feedback conversations before the conversations start. Tell yourself, “I will say thank you, end the conversation, and ask for another time to talk.”
If you receive feedback that doesn’t feel accurate, ask others, who you trust, what they think. Just be prepared to hear what they have to say, and, of course, respond with “thank you.”
Don’t respond to negative feedback in the moment, even if the other person wants you to and you think you can do so without being defensive. Don’t underestimate the power of your emotions. You will be upset, even if you don’t feel upset, and your response will be better after you’ve had time to process. Tell the person who gave you feedback that you take their feedback seriously and want to respond thoughtfully, and thus you’re going to think about what they said before responding. People may be frustrated with this response at first, but they’ll be appreciative later.
Be sure to get back to the person, who has feedback for you, within a few days. Tell them you thought about what they said and then tell them how you feel. You can speak candidly. Your words will be calmer and more thoughtful than when you received the initial feedback.
We know people are hesitant to give feedback. Make giving you feedback easier by responding calmly. No one expects to hear “thank you for the feedback.” Your unemotional response will strengthen your reputation and relationships and make it more likely that you get more feedback in the future.
You know when someone gives you ‘the tone’, similar to when people roll their eyes at you? When you get ‘the tone’ you’re being told that the other person is exasperated.
Tone of voice is one of the hardest things to coach because we don’t hear ourselves. People who give people ‘the tone’ rarely know they’re doing it. One of the best ways I know to effectively coach tone of voice is to ask tone givers to tape themselves during phone calls. Then listen to the recording together and ask the tone giver, “If your grandmother called and someone spoke to her that way, would you be happy?” You can also read written correspondence out loud, adding the tone you ‘heard’, and ask the sender how she would have interpreted the message.
When given the tone, most people feel judged. And when people feel judged, conversations are constrained.
The way to avoid giving ‘the tone’ is to come from a place of curiosity. When you ask the question, “What were you thinking when you approached the customer that way,” you can sound curious or judgmental. Being judgmental evokes defensiveness, which shuts conversations down. Being curious creates discussion.
Consider asking questions like these to invite discussion:
• Tell me more about… • Help me understand what happened here… • What are your thoughts about… • What’s the history behind….
Any of these questions will lead to a good discussion, if you manage your tone.
If you want to get information or influence someone, ask questions and engage the person in a dialogue. We often try to persuade people by giving them information. This rarely works. Instead of overloading people with data, ask questions that evoke discussion. Through discussion, you might get to a different place. And if not, you’ll at least have learned why the other person thinks as they do, and you will have shared your point of view in a way that is inviting versus off-putting.
It’s easy to give people ‘the tone’ when we’re tired and frustrated. Try to avoid difficult conversations when you’re tired or stressed. Wait to have important conversations until you know you can manage yourself and your tone.
The people you live and work with are hesitant to give you negative feedback. They’re afraid you’ll freak out, and they don’t want to deal your freak out. It’s easier to say nothing.
When I started teaching how to give and receive feedback, I provided elaborate explanations as to the predictable response to feedback and the rationale for that response. Now I’ve boiled the natural response to receiving feedback into three words: The Freak Out.
Every person you know – personally and professionally – wants to be liked and approved of. Even the people in your organization who you think are lazy, want you to think highly of them. And when anyone calls another person’s competence into question, that person is likely to freak out (become defensive).
It’s very difficult not to get at least a little bit defensive when receiving feedback. A defensive response often sounds something like, “Thanks for the telling me that. Can I tell you why I did it that way?” The problem with that slightly defensive response is that what the other person hears is, “You’re not listening. I am wasting my time talking to you.” Then the conversation quickly ends. People want to feel heard. And when the feedback recipient becomes defensive, the person giving feedback doesn’t feel heard.
Don’t feel badly about becoming defensive when you receive negative feedback. Becoming defensive when receiving bad news just means you’re a living, breathing human being with feelings. That beats the alternative. But The Freak Out scares people. They don’t want to deal with your mild, moderate, or very defensive reactions.
Because people want to avoid The Freak Out, they keep negative feedback to themselves, or worse, tell someone else. If you want more truth, you need to make it clear there won’t be negative repercussions for speaking up.
Here are seven steps to get others comfortable giving you negative feedback:
1. Ask for feedback.
2. Be specific about the type of feedback you want.
3. Tell the person from whom you’re asking for feedback when and where she can observe you in action.
A bad example of asking for feedback: “I really want your feedback. Feel free to give it anytime.” This is too vague and doesn’t demonstrate seriousness on your part.
A good example of asking for feedback: “I really want your feedback on the pace of the new-hire-orientation program. Will you call into the first hour next Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. and tell me what you think of the pace and why?” This request tells the person specifically what you want and demonstrates you’re serious about wanting feedback.
4. When you receive feedback, say, “Thank you for telling me. I’m going to think about what you’ve said and may come back to you in a few days to talk more.”
5. Don’t respond to negative feedback immediately. Walk away instead of responding.
6. If you’d like more information or want to tell the person you disagree with what they said, wait until you’re calm to have that conversation. That can be minutes or a few days later.
7. You can express a counterpoint of view, just don’t do it immediately after receiving feedback. Anything you say in the moment will likely sound defensive.
No matter what a person’s role in your life – your boss, a peer, external customer, or even spouse – it takes courage to give you feedback. When a conversation requires courage, the speaker’s emotions are heightened. If the feedback recipient’s emotions rise in response to the feedback, conversations escalate. This is how arguments start. If you want to put the other person at ease and get more feedback in the future, do the opposite of what people are expecting. Rather than getting even the slightest bit defensive, do the opposite. Say, “Thank you for the feedback. I’m sorry you had that experience. I’m going to think about what you’ve said and may come back to you to talk more.” Then walk away.
Walking away, when all you want to do is react, is very difficult. Walking away will require a good deal of self-control, but the rewards are great. You will build trust, strengthen relationships, and get more information than you have in the past – information you need to manage your career, reputation, and business.
You will be passed over for jobs, projects, and opportunities – personally and professionally. People will choose not to buy from you, and they’ll choose not to be your friend and romantic partner. And that’s ok. Not everyone is our right “customer.” The key isn’t to win every opportunity. Rather, it’s what we do when we don’t get what we want.
When you’re done feeling disappointed, mad, and frustrated, get curious. Find out why you were passed over. I’ll never suggest you make changes. I simply want you to know what’s standing in your way, so you have power – the power to choose.
We all have blind spots – things we do that are off-putting to others, that we’re not aware of. For the most part, people won’t tell us our business blind spots, instead, they simply pass us over. Being rejected is feedback, it’s just not specific enough to help us make different choices. If you want to be able to change your behavior, you need to know what behaviors are standing in your way. Then you can choose what, if anything, to do about those behaviors.
When you get turned down for an opportunity, practice these strategies to eliminate your business blind spots:
Allow yourself to have an emotional reaction, to feel disappointed, and to grieve the loss.
When your emotions dissipate, call people who can tell you why you were turned down, and ask for feedback. The goal of the conversation: Eliminate your business blind spots.
Be humble and open.
Consider saying something like, “Thank you so much for considering me/us to support your needs. We were disappointed not to win your business. Would you be willing to share what had you choose a different provider and what we could have done differently to be a stronger candidate? I’ll be grateful for anything you’re willing to tell me.”
Depending on the circumstances, you could also say something like, “I wasn’t put on the _______ project. I wonder if you have any information as to why. I appreciate anything you’re able to tell me. Your input will help me grow and eliminate my business blind spots.”
Regardless of what you hear, thank the person for the feedback. You can ask for additional information and ask who else you can talk with, but don’t become defensive. The less defensive you get, the more feedback you’ll get. Make it easy to tell you the truth.
Remember, information is power, and power is control. Many people don’t give direct feedback because they’re afraid of the other person’s reaction. Surprise people by being open to feedback and eliminate your business blind spots.
Validate feedback that doesn’t feel right to you. If you’re not sure what someone told you is accurate, vet the feedback with other people you trust. Simply ask other people who are aware of your performance, “I received this feedback. Does that resonate with you?”
Sit with the feedback for a few days before taking any action.
When your emotions have passed, decide what – if anything – you want to do with the input you’ve received. Perhaps you want to make changes. Perhaps you don’t. Either way, you have more power than you did before you received any input.
You won’t win them all. The key isn’t avoiding rejection, it’s what you do when you don’t get what you want. Be brave. Be open. Ask for feedback. And you’ll have the power to make different choices next time, if you want to.
You’ve heard countless times that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. So when something not-so-positive happens – a customer is upset, you missed a deadline, or made an error – don’t let your boss find out about it from someone else. Manage your professional reputation and get there first to create the first impression of what happened.
Managers don’t like surprises. If your manager is going to get a call about something that isn’t positive, let them know before the call comes in. You will create your manager’s perception of the situation, and perceptions are hard to change. Don’t wait for the s*** to hit the fan. Get ahead of the problem by coming forward and giving your manager and other stakeholders a heads up.
It could sound something like this, “I just had a tough conversation with John in IT. You may get a call. Here’s what happened… I didn’t want you to be surprised.”
Or “I told Brian at Intellitec that we’re raising our prices in the second quarter. He wasn’t happy. You may get a call.”
Or let’s say you’re going to work on a strained relationship. Tell your manager before you take action. It could sound something like this, “I want to work on my relationship with Julie. Our relationship has been strained since we worked together on the software project last year. I’d like to approach her, tell her that I know our relationship is strained, and that I’d like a good working relationship with her. Then I’d like to ask if she’s willing to have lunch with me, talk about what’s happened, and see if we can start again in a more positive way. What do you think of me doing that? Would you approach the conversation differently? I don’t know how it’s going to go, so I wanted you to know what I’m planning to do, just in case it backfires, and you get a call.”
Manage your professional reputation assertively by taking responsibility for mistakes, working on damaged relationships, and telling your manager before someone else does!
Vague communication is unhelpful. Being vague instills doubt in the people around you and reduces your credibility.
When a customer service agent answers my questions with words like, “That sounds right, I think so, or that should work,” I hang up and call back, hoping to get someone who can give me an affirmative answer. People do this to you too; they just don’t tell you about it.
Pay attention to your language. If the answer is yes, say “Yes.” If the answer is no, say “No.” “I think so,” says neither yes nor no. Saying, “I think so” tells people you don’t really know.
A few phrases to avoid and what to say instead:
Avoid: “That should be done by Friday.”
Instead, be specific and give a final date. “That will be complete by Friday. If I can’t get it done by Friday, I’ll call you to let you know by 5:00 pm on Thursday.”
Avoid: “Sounds right.”
Instead, be specific and say, “That’s correct.”
Avoid: “We should be able to do that.”
Instead, be specific and say, “We can do that.”
Avoid: “I guess.”
Instead, be specific and say, “Yes” or “No.”
When I teach feedback training, the biggest thing training participants struggle with is specificity. “You’re difficult to work with.” “Your clothing is inappropriate.” “I just find you to be negative.” “You did a good job on that.” “It’s a pleasure to have you on the team.” All of this is vague and thus unhelpful to the feedback recipient. And the same is true when answering questions and making promises.
Tell people exactly what to expect. Be specific. Even if they don’t like your answer, they’ll be happy to have a clear answer.
Many businesses are struggling to overcome negative and permanent online reviews on yelp, trip advisor, Glassdoor, etc. And they’re wondering why customers and employees go online vs. giving feedback directly. The answer is simple.
Giving feedback online is easy. Giving feedback directly is harder, for many reasons. No one wants to be the person who complains. Feedback is likely to be received with a defensive at worst and explanatory at best response, and who really wants to deal with that? And we fear we’ll get “in trouble” for giving feedback, etc. etc. etc. I could go on and on.
If you want your customers and employees to give you feedback directly instead of blasting you online when they’re unhappy, make it easy to give you feedback, regularly.
Here are four ways to help prevent negative online reviews and improve the data you get from customers and employees:
Ask customers and employees for feedback regularly. Don’t wait until the end of the year or after a service has been provided to ask for feedback. Ask for feedback during the customer’s experience. Ask employees for feedback every 90-days. Marriott hotels is masterful at this. Hotel guests don’t get onto the hotel’s free Wi-Fi until answering one question about their hotel stay. If guest feedback has a negative component, a manager will call you immediately. Such smart business.
If you’re going to send online surveys, keep them short. Never ask a customer more than five questions, and two is better. Ask a version of, “What are you appreciating about your experience? What could we change on your behalf?” What else do you need to know? Too many businesses send exhaustive and exhausting surveys to customers after a service has been provided. It’s unrealistic to expect customers to complete 30+ survey questions. Keep it short. You’ll see better response rates.
Call 10% (or fewer if you have thousands of employees and customers) and ask for feedback. It’s such a rare occurrence to receive a phone call asking for feedback, it’s an immediate loyalty and relationship builder.
Don’t request a positive score on a survey. Sending a survey and asking for a certain response type is a turnoff. Uber drivers who ask me to rate them a five never get that rating. The best way to get an awesome rating is to be awesome.
Ask for feedback early and often, and make it easy to give. P.S. And no anonymous surveys – a topic for another day.
Saying no is hard. We don’t want to disappoint or let people down. And yet, you can’t say yes to everything. You can say no and still sound like a responsible, easy-to-work-with, accommodating professional.
Here are four practices for saying no:
Thank the person for asking. “Thank you for asking me.”
1. Saying “thank you” acknowledges the other person and buys you time to think about their request.
2. Tell the person you need some time to think about the request. Ask, “Can I have a few days to think about it? I’ll get back to you by Friday.”
You don’t need to reply in the moment. I often regret things I agree to without thinking through the request thoroughly.
3. Consider what you really want and are willing to do. It’s much worse to over commit and under deliver than to simply say no or renegotiate requests.
4. Get back to the person in a timely way (when you said you would) and tell them what you’re willing to do.
How to Say No Option One: Simply say no.
Example: “I really appreciate you asking me to write the proposal for the __________ RFP. I’m not able to do that. Can I recommend someone else who has the expertise and will do a great job?”
Don’t give a bunch of reasons for saying no. People aren’t interested in why we can or can’t do something. They just want to know if we will do it.
How to Say No Option Two: Agree and negotiate the time frame.
Example: “I’d be happy to do that. I can’t do it before the last week of the month. Would that work for you?” If the answer is no, negotiate further. Ask, “When do you really need it? I can certainly do pieces by then, but not the whole thing. Given that I can’t meet your timeline, who else can work on this in tandem or instead of me?”
How to Say No Option Three: Say no to the request but say what you can do.
Example: “I can’t do _______. But I can do ________. How would that work?”
A review of how to say no:
Acknowledge the request by getting back to the requestor within 24 hours.
Give yourself time to think about and respond to requests.
Negotiate requests to your and the requestor’s satisfaction.
Agree on what you can and are willing to do.
Keep your commitments.
Saying no is always hard. But it’s always better to say no than to ignore requests, or to say yes and do nothing.
Most people wait way too long to give feedback. Instead of waiting to give feedback until you’re about to explode in frustration, or until a formal review, give feedback every time you meet with someone.
Managers, make it a practice to meet with each of your employees at least once a month. Short meetings twice a month or weekly would be better. But if you’re not doing one-on-one meetings now, start meeting monthly. If you’re meeting monthly, start meeting twice a month. Employees need one-on-one time with their boss. Team meetings and casual conversations do not replace individual meetings.
Direct Report One-on-One Meeting Agenda:
The direct report comes to the meeting ready to discuss:
1. What they are working on that is going well.
2. What they are working on that is not going well.
3. What they need help with.
4. Then the manager gives feedback on what went well since the last meeting and what could be improved.
5. The employee also gives the manager feedback on what has gone well since the last meeting and what could be improved.
Feedback goes both directions. Managers, if you want your employees to be open to your feedback, ask for feedback from your employees on what they need from you. Give feedback on both the work and your working relationship. A poor working relationship often motivates employees to leave a job, but it’s the last thing that gets discussed.
Feedback discussions should be short. You can say anything in two minutes or fewer. No one wants to be told they aren’t cutting it for 20 minutes. Say what you need to say and end the conversation or move on to another topic.
If you’re not giving your employees regular feedback, you can use this language to start:
“I’m realizing that I’m not giving you enough feedback. I want to be helpful to you. If I don’t provide regular, timely feedback, I’m not being as helpful as I could be. I’d like to start a regular practice of meeting monthly, getting an update from you on how things are going, and giving each other feedback on what went well and what could be improved since our last meeting.”
If you work for someone who is not forthcoming with feedback, ask for feedback. You’re 100% accountable for your career. Don’t wait for your manager, customers or peers to give you feedback. Ask for feedback on a regular basis.
Here’s how you can ask for feedback from your manager:
“Your feedback helps ensure I’m focused on the right work. Can we put a monthly meeting on the calendar, and I’ll tell you what I’m working on, where I do and don’t need help, and we can discuss how things are going?”
If meetings get cancelled, reschedule them. If your manager says these meetings aren’t necessary or they don’t have time, tell them, “Your regular input is helpful to me. What’s the best way to ensure we catch each other for a few minutes each month?” Meaning, push the issue.
If your manager still doesn’t make time for the meetings or doesn’t provide clear and specific feedback, even when you ask for examples, ask your internal and external customers and coworkers for feedback. The people you work closely with see you work and will likely give feedback, if asked.
No news is not necessarily good news. Waiting six months or a year to receive performance feedback is like going on a road trip from St. Louis to Los Angeles but not consulting a map until you arrive in New York, frustrated and far from your desired destination.
Managers: Meet with employees monthly, semi-monthly or weekly, and give feedback every time you meet.
Employees: Ask your managers, customers, and coworkers for regular feedback, and take control of your career.
Lots of organizations send out employee engagement surveys with the desire of improving employee engagement and retention; unfortunately, they often damage both in the process.
There are a few employee engagement survey pitfalls that luckily are easy to avoid.
Here are three practices to follow when sending out employee engagement surveys:
Shorter is better. I hate to say this, but no one wants to fill out your employee engagement survey. It’s time consuming, employees doubt the survey will yield results, and employees worry that their feedback isn’t really confidential.
Make your employee engagement survey easy to fill out by making it short. And by short, I mean 10 questions or fewer. You’ll get a better response rate to a 10-question survey than a 65-question one.
Provide employees with survey results quickly. Most organizations ask for too much information. Leaders are overwhelmed by the survey information, so they spend months and months reviewing it, while employees comment on yet another employee survey with no communication.
Send out a succinct communication sharing the top few learnings – the good and the not-so-good — within a few weeks of sending out the survey. You don’t need to take action at the same time. Simply keep employees in the loop by communicating a quick summary of what you learned. If you wait too long to share the feedback, it often never gets communicated. And the next time you send out a survey, employees will remember the absence of information and be hesitant to fill it out.
Within 90-days, tell employees what you will and won’t be changing, based on the survey feedback, and tell them why. Employees don’t need or expect all of their input to be utilized. Closing the loop with clear communication about what you are and aren’t changing, and why, is often sufficient.