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Like It or Not, Taking Feedback Must Be on Your Leadership Skills List

Like giving your daughter “The Talk” or cleaning a dog who’s just rolled in dead skunk, feedback is essential, even if you don’t want to accept it. Sometimes it’s excruciating; sometimes it stinks. But it’s a crucial addition to your leadership skills list.

Most professionals have co-workers both “above” and “below” them in the organizational chart. But being open to feedback helps your staff see you as more of an equal -- as more human. And that should always be the goal for someone who in turn is a leader, too.

During my previous, high-stress career in newspapers, I learned this lesson the hard way. I avoided conflict. I resented criticism from not-so-model employees even when it was warranted. I was ultra-quick to point out the flaws of others that my boss was ignoring.

Instead, you’ve got to explore the “why” behind what you’re hearing.

Let my examples of failure (slightly exaggerated at times for comedic effect) be a guide for your future feedback-related conversations. Ripping off the Band-Aid now can prevent a bigger stink in the office later.

Leadership Skills List: Receiving Feedback

Let’s start off with The 5 Truths About Feedback, per Workplace Conversations:

  1. No one can escape feedback. It will find you.
  2. We all need feedback, both positive and negative, to grow professionally.
  3. Feedback shows how we impact others.
  4. Feedback helps us align our actions with our intentions.
  5. It’s not always unpleasant -- it can actually be productive and even positive.

It’s natural to be bothered by negative feedback. But remember, your peers and especially your direct reports are watching and even parroting you. You are, after all, a leader, whether you realize it or not.

Since you are a leader, you have the right to expect certain behaviors out of feedback givers, too. If possible, before they start unloading, ask them to make it narrow and plain, not a rambling rant.

If you facilitate a productive discussion and you’re transparent and consistent in your leadership philosophy, you will earn trust and respect around the office.

6 Natural Responses to Feedback

Here are the six natural negative responses to getting feedback. I’ve included examples I’ve seen displayed by my “friend.” (OK, it’s me.)

Do you catch yourself having these emotion-based reactions, too?

1. FearGraphic Showing Being Surprised and Being Scared

  • “Am I in trouble? Am I in jeopardy of losing my role or even my job?”
  • “Does this person dislike me?”

2. AngerGraphic Showing Being Angry

  • “This is wrong. I’m busting my rear end off, and this is the thanks I get!??!”
  • ”I’m so stressed; I can’t take this place anymore!”

3. CounterattackGraphic Showing in Position of Fighting Wearing Red Boxing Gloves

  • “Maybe if you’d done _____, I would have never had this problem in the first place.”
  • “Why am I being criticized when that reporter over there falls asleep at his desk once a week?”

4. DenialGraphic Showing Angry

  • “It’s not my fault; I was only doing it the way I was told to.”
  • “I was stuck in traffic. And the dog ate my report.”

5. DefensivenessGraphic Showing Arguing in a Conversation

  • “I’m probably your most valuable employee. Why are you personally attacking me?”
  • “I have a lot going on, OK!? And you hardly even know me. You’re wrong about me.”

6. Feeling InadequateGraphic Showing Being Sad

  • “This is too hard. I obviously am in over my head here. Maybe this career/role isn’t for me.”
  • “Everyone here seems so much more put together than I am.”

6 Leader-Like Responses

Now you’ve seen the bad. Let’s look at my poor reactions again, but this time, practice these internal and external responses to each:

1. Fear

Understand why the feedback is so powerful. Is it reminding you of similar criticism you’ve received in the past? Is it 100% true, and that scares the heck out of you?

2. Anger

Look for what's constructive, not destructive. Remember that in most cases, feedback givers are just trying to help you, or at least have the greater good of the office in mind. If necessary, delay your response so you can respond with thoughtfulness and grace rather than blunt force.

3. Counterattack

Stop externalizing. Set the example. Shifting blame to another person makes it sound like you’re incapable of accepting responsibility. Instead, you can actually disarm attacks by inviting feedback more often.

4. Denial

Ask for clarification. Try to understand the feedback 100%. Don’t settle for vague criticism -- request specific examples and explanations. This practice is especially helpful when the feedback is unexpected. Finally, make sure you come out of the discussion with the information that will allow you to make changes.

5. Defensiveness

Put down your shield. Try reacting exclusively to the specific feedback you’re getting that moment instead of taking it personally. You don’t have to convince critics they’re wrong about you as a human being in general.

6. Feeling Inadequate

Don't self-condemn. You're not doomed to repeat your mistakes forever! Keep them in the loop regarding how you’re using the feedback to make things better.

Need Help Overcoming Your Faults?

Some of my weaknesses had been dawning on me for some time, but taking the Workplace Conversations e-learning program offered by People First Productivity Solutions was what put them all in plain view.

It certainly was eye-opening (alarming? soul-crushing?). But don’t worry -- this e-course isn’t all about pointing out your flaws. It’s about identifying ways you can be a better version of your workplace self -- not just in taking feedback, but also with:

  • Coaching
  • Delegating
  • Handling other uncomfortable talks
  • Much more

Becoming a better leader is a natural part of this transformation.

So remember: Feedback will find you, no matter what. And a little pain now saves a world of pain later.

(Note: Workplace Conversations is also available in team training sessions.)

(Adam Vosler is an Inbound Marketing Writer at protocol 80, Inc. He handles blogging, email campaigns, social media, and other content creation for a variety of B2B clients. He also serves as the company’s Director of Fun and Leisure, staging [and losing] in Wiffle ball, arm wrestling, and Guitar Hero competitions.)

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