Lesson From #SHRM16 - How Leaders Receive Feedback Matters

Lesson From #SHRM16 - How Leaders Receive Feedback Matters

I flew back home to Ottawa last night from SHRM 2016 in Washington, D.C., the largest HR conference in the world. My head is full of ideas that I want to start sharing at Halogen Software, as well as ideas that I want to use for my own personal growth. And that’s exactly why we make the effort to attend, isn’t it? I’m thrilled I had the opportunity to do so.

One of the sessions that I found especially poignant was on feedback by Sheila Heen, bestselling author and faculty member at Harvard Law School. Heen’s session, Thanks for the Feedback (Even When It’s Off-Base, Unfair, Poorly Delivered, and Frankly, You’re Not in the Mood spun the whole concept of feedback on its head, leaving myself and many of my peers asking, “Have we been going about feedback wrong this whole time?!”

Can you take it?

Consider for a second what training sessions that you, yourself, have attended on feedback. Chances are they focused on how to give feedback, right?

Contrary to most organizational training sessions on feedback, Heen advocates that leaders need to learn how to receive feedback – not how to give it. In fact, she goes as far as to say that how your leaders receive feedback has the single greatest impact on your organization’s culture of feedback.

So what’s in it for the receiver? Heen says that leaders who become better receivers of feedback report higher job satisfaction and higher engagement with their colleagues. Plus, they adapt to new roles more quickly and become better feedback givers.

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As you move farther along your career path, possibly into positions of management or executive leadership, the quantity of feedback diminishes. The reason? People just don’t want to take the risk. And yet, feedback is so crucial to our own personal learning and growth, so it’s important to learn how to be open to feedback and how to receive it effectively.

Feedback cards

There is no perfect feedback

The first step in being able to do so, notes Heen, is to recognize that there is no such thing as perfect feedback. Meaning, you will not be presented feedback in a perfectly wrapped package. It will often be delivered poorly, unfairly, and at a bad time. But that doesn’t matter – you still need to learn how to receive it.

The key to receiving feedback is to understand that we all have certain triggers. Once you are aware of these triggers, you can train yourself not to respond to the triggers and to instead focus your energy on understanding what the giver is trying to tell you.

The three kinds of trigger reactions that Heen shared with us are:

  • Truth: Where you question if the feedback is valid and look for proof.
  • Relationship: Where you question the validity of the person giving the feedback.
  • Identity: Where the feedback does not match your own identify of yourself.

Now, the important part is to remember that any piece of feedback might actually be invalid, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still pause to understand it first. Without pausing and overriding your triggers, you won’t be able to receive to effectively receive any feedback – and that includes the very valid and potentially enriching stuff, too.

SHRM16 Session

Identifying and getting the feedback you need

Feedback can mean a lot of different things to a lot of people. So it’s helpful to be clear on what type of feedback you actually want. Heen classifies feedback into three types:

  • Appreciative: Where the receiver is seen and acknowledged.
  • Coaching: Where the receiver is provided with information for how to improve.
  • Evaluative: Where the receiver is assessed.

She points out that if you haven’t received any appreciative feedback at all, you will not be open to receiving coaching feedback. This is something to keep in mind as you work with your team and your colleagues.

Once you know what type of feedback you want, you can then move forward and find ways to get it and who you can get it from.


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