How To Interpret Feedback

by Laurie Ruettimann | Posted | Performance Management

How To Interpret Feedback

Countless studies have shown the tremendous value of giving and receiving feedback at work. Personal and professional development cannot happen without regular conversations among colleagues and managers. Teams unquestionably thrive in an environment of trust and communication. However, interpreting feedback is a challenge for leaders and workers alike.

Why is it hard to interpret feedback? Well, language is limited. Our brains are wired to interpret new data as a threat instead of an opportunity to improve. Very few people possess the skills and abilities needed to listen without climbing the ladder of inference.

While feedback is a gift, it’s sometimes hard to translate the message without a guidebook. Here are a few ways to interpret feedback so that you gain greater clarity and understand the information shared with you.

Understand personalities and motivation.

When someone offers feedback on your performance, consider how he or she fits into the landscape of your life. Is this someone who means well? Is this a colleague who always complains? Is this a corporate leader who consistently demonstrates good judgment?

If you can appreciate someone's personality, you can listen to feedback with a little more context. You will know to listen quietly or to defend your behaviors. Furthermore, a personality-driven approach to interpreting feedback reminds you that colleagues and supervisors are human beings with flaws, just like you.

Remember your fundamental right to ask questions.

The best way to interpret feedback is to stop guessing. If you don't understand what's been offered, ask for clarification. If clarification doesn't help, ask for examples. If the examples feel invalid, ask for real-time feedback to help you see a scenario from someone else's point of view.

Adults are allowed to ask earnest, clarifying questions to help enhance performance and improve outcomes. If you don't understand what's being shared with you, it's imperative that you ask questions. Conversely, when giving feedback, encourage others to stop and ask questions along the way.

Filter feedback through your heart.

Everybody knows it’s tricky to hear feedback. But can you imagine being the one who has to give it? I have coached hundreds of leaders in my lifetime. None of them particularly enjoy having crucial conversations where they deliver difficult news to someone who probably isn't too keen on hearing it.

While not every leader gets it right on a daily basis, almost every leader has a soul. If someone sits you down to provide coaching or guidance, filter that feedback through your heart. It's not easy to be the bearer of bad news. Be grateful that you’re getting advice instead of a pink slip.

The next steps

Healthy, feedback-rich environments don't just appear out of nowhere. It takes an incredible amount of intentional effort to build a culture where interpreting feedback is just another act of trust. But if you deliver feedback with good intent and learn to receive feedback with grace and humility, you'll create an organization where your workforce knows how to interpret feedback without running to their local HR department.

Get everything you need to give great feedback

Want to up your employee feedback game? Get in the feedback loop with the Saba Feedback Toolkit, including our feedback guide ebook, a great webinar on 1:1 meetings and our feedback and coaching templates.

Get the Feedback Toolkit

Our best resources on employee feedback including our feedback guide ebook, our 1:1 meeting webinar, and our feedback and coaching templates!


Download Now
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Get the Feedback Toolkit

Our best resources on employee feedback including our feedback guide ebook, our 1:1 meeting webinar, and our feedback and coaching templates!


Download Now


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