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Supervisory Skills: Beyond Giving Feedback, You Need to Do This

Graphic Showing Saying Hurtful WordsYou’re a manager with direct reports. You probably report to someone else, too. So you’re familiar with the experiences of giving feedback as well as receiving it. You know that receiving feedback can be uncomfortable. But the next time it comes, resist the urge to duck and cover. Inviting and accepting feedback is crucial to developing your supervisory skills.

Why Supervisory Skills Include Receiving Feedback

The top four reasons people leave a job, according to Gallup, all relate to feedback. Think about how these reasons could be remedied if people received regular feedback:

  1. “I don’t know how to improve or advance.”
  2. “I don’t know how to be successful here.”
  3. “I don’t feel supported.”
  4. “I don’t see how I fit in here.”

Clearly, employees at every level want, need and deserve to receive feedback. But before you start giving more feedback (which is a good thing!), set an example for members of the team by inviting and responding to feedback.

To set the right example, you’ll want to master the art of receiving feedback with aplomb. Click here for tips on how to receive feedback in a way that is productive and useful.

This doesn’t mean you have to agree with every word you hear. It doesn’t mean all feedback is useful or actionable. In fact, some feedback should not be accepted. Step one, then, is sorting out the feedback you receive and rejecting feedback that is not useful.  

What to Consider When Evaluating Feedback

If you are accepting and open to candid conversations, you understand the value of people speaking frankly. You may be better equipped to respond in kind and to appreciate directness.

When we receive feedback or respond to any candid conversation, a natural first response is to muster our defenses and go into denial. That’s not going to help you develop awareness of the problem or create a suitable response to it. Instead of denying all feedback, assume that it’s being given with the intention of helping you. Most feedback is offered with that intention.

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. So let’s talk about those rare exceptions.

An employee who is angry, fearful or feeling other strong emotions may use feedback as a weapon or inappropriately express it. Here’s the spectrum of criticism you might hear:

Types of Criticism

  • Direct criticism -- objective, assertive, intended to be constructive
  • Indirect criticism -- backhanded compliments, vague observations
  • Nonverbal -- facial expressions, body language
  • Hostile -- aggressive, personalized, designed to hurt

The negative feedback gets less useful and more problematic the farther you go down that list. Fortunately, there are ways you can mitigate feedback that is unproductive. Ask the feedback giver to focus narrowly on the issue at hand. Ask follow-up questions and request specific examples. And, most importantly, show empathy for the feedback giver’s situation.

Distorted Feedback

Consider that feedback sometimes comes out in a harmful way due to underlying reasons. Your colleagues’ reasons for giving distorted feedback may include:

  • Mood -- feedback givers might be in a highly emotional state
  • Unrealistic standard -- nobody could ever deliver to their standards!
  • Power play -- they may be seeking control over you
  • Jealousy -- it’s not really about what you do, but about how they believe they stack up
  • Frustration -- they’re venting their stored-up anger
  • Fear -- they’re masking messages because they worry about retribution

You can disarm these issues by expressing appreciation for the feedback, even if it was unpleasant to hear. Follow up with your critics to ask for observations related to the changes you’re making in response to the feedback. A few calm, productive responses (perhaps after stepping back for a moment to think them through) can stop harmful situations dead in their tracks.

The Next Step

Once you master your ability to be discerning, you can remain open and responsive to feedback that is well-intended. You can zero in on the nuggets in any feedback that might be useful for you. By demonstrating this to others on the team, you’ll be modeling what you’d like to see them doing when you provide feedback.  

For even more on both giving AND receiving feedback, as well as several other techniques vital to great leadership, check out the Workplace Conversations e-learning tool. Click the button below to get started with this self-paced guide to being a better communicator and leader.

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