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MANAGERS AND SUPERVISORS: Three Crucial Rules When Receiving Professional Feedback

In the past several weeks, I have been in the throes of 360 surveys. This tool involves a data collection process where someone is asked to rate how competent another person is in skills such as communication, decision making, conflict resolution, leadership, etc. In this case, it involves getting feedback on skills before training and then again, after training to measure progress.

We’ve been conducting 360 surveys here for over 15 years and I am reminded how differently people react to the concept of getting feedback. Some folks jump right in and are eager to learn about how they are viewed by others; while others drag their feet and do everything they can to avoid the process. Just recently in conflict training, we talked about the importance of being a leader that is willing to accept feedback. Going one step further, a successful leader not only accepts it, but seeks it out. One participant spoke out that it’s easy to say you want feedback, while it’s entirely different to deal with the feedback you get.

Piggybacking on that, I shared with them our three rules around feedback. The first rule is: Don’t Kill the Messenger. How often do we deliver “bad news” only to get argued with, beat up, and walk away muttering to ourselves, “I’ll never do that again?” So, if you are someone who seeks out feedback, you must be very careful about your reaction to those individuals with the guts to bring you the feedback.

In fact, the second rule demands a new attitude of “Thank you. Feedback is a gift.” (You can only imagine the looks I got at that point. Back to rule #1.) I, then, shared with them a story from training years ago. It involved a group of workers from a manufacturing plant who were being asked to form a self-directed work team in order to become more efficient and better meet their customers’ needs. Some of these individuals had been doing the same job for 20 years — came in, did their job and went home. They were good at what they did and therefore, got picked as a pilot group to form a team. However, being a team demanded that they learn a whole new set of skills that had never been asked of them in their job before. Here is where we came in. Our job was to teach them the new skills they would need to be an effective team. Early on, not surprisingly, they made it clear to management that they didn’t like the training. Knowing that we couldn’t preach what we weren’t willing to do, we sat down with the whole group and went around the room many times, listening to their complaints. I still remember sitting there and writing down everything that was said and projecting an attitude of “thank you” after each criticism. Not unlike what you will get, some of their feedback was vague and some of it was downright manipulative. However, in that meeting, some legitimate criticism of the training emerged that helped us make the remaining sessions better learning experiences for them.

At that point, could I sort that out? Not on your life – all my fight/flight emotions were raging. Here comes rule #3: Separate the feedback from doing something about it. I had to resist the temptation to respond to the feedback right then and there. I had to deal with my emotional response first and then sort through the feedback to find the nuggets of truth.

Dr. Spencer Johnson in his book, Peaks and Valleys, notes how important it is to “see the reality of the situation” in all aspects of your life, but especially when you are in a “valley” or difficult place in your life.  Being open to hear the criticisms of others helps us get to the “truth” about ourselves and our leadership of others.

What are the strategies you use when receiving feedback to help you stay in an open, receptive place?

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