In my last blog, I wrote about the power of feedback and how the leader should solicit feedback in order to grow. As you grow and get better yourself, you are raising the standard for your team. I love the quote by Tyron Edwards (an American Theologian), which reads, “People never improve unless they look to some standard or example higher and better than themselves.” My question for you, then, is this: “What standard or example are you setting for others to aspire to?”

As you take on feedback and your team watches how you grow from it, they learn that feedback is a natural part of the course for growth. Over time, they become more open to feedback. But not everyone responds positively. I’ve asked many leaders what holds people back from receiving feedback well, and I’ve heard many different answers. Most of these answers can be neatly grouped into three buckets, which fall in line with the work of Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. Their research in Thanks for the Feedback reveals that people often can’t take feedback because of one of the following three reasons:

  1. Truth Triggers: People can’t hear feedback because of the substance of the feedback. The feedback is somehow off, unhelpful, or untrue and that is why they ignore it.
  2. Relationship Triggers: People can’t hear feedback because they are tripped up by the person giving them the feedback. Regardless of the feedback, there’s something in the relationship with the person giving the feedback that is throwing them off. The giver may seem ungrateful for their efforts (since they have put in so much work), or they feel they are simply not appreciated for what they do. Or maybe they just don’t trust the expertise or motives of that person or believe they have credibility on this topic. Accordingly, people ignore the feedback even it if it is mostly true.
  3. Identity Triggers: People can’t hear feedback because the nature of it somehow hurts them in ways they don’t always understand. Identity triggers are all about us. Whether the feedback is right or wrong, wise or not, something about it has caused a person’s identity—their sense of who they are—to come a little unglued. People who have this identity trigger may feel overwhelmed, threatened, or off balance when receiving feedback. It undermines how they see themselves or threatens their sense of safety or well-being.

As a leader, how do you ensure your team’s growth by helping them take feedback well and in healthy ways? You can start by knowing that these triggers exist and thoughtfully observing and working through the triggers that might apply with each of your direct reports.

Fortunately, Stone and Heen suggest a few strategies. You can use these tips on avoiding triggers when receiving feedback to adjust your communication and help your feedback be more palatable to those around you. Here is what they say:

For TRUTH triggers when getting feedback:

  1. Separate what the feedback is actually about. Is it simply a better way to do something or is it evaluative in where you stand?
  2. Make sure you understand what is being said. Ask for clarification to get to the truth about what the feedback means.
  3. Look for your blind spots. Determine if what is being shared can be part of what you don’t see about yourself or the situation.

For RELATIONSHIP triggers when getting feedback:

  1. Disentangle the content of the feedback from who is giving it. Don’t let who is sharing the feedback color what may be true. Act on the feedback and then deal with the relationship.
  2. Examine the relationship. What are each of you bringing that contributes to the problem?

For IDENTITY triggers when getting feedback:

  1. Determine how your wiring and temperament color the feedback.
  2. Work to correct distorted thinking and put the feedback in healthy perspective by asking, “How big is this really?”
  3. Develop a growth mindset. Take small, incremental steps to begin changing your belief about your identity so you can make room for growth through feedback.

You have enormous influence as a leader in how your team learns to respond to feedback. it starts with receiving feedback well and with giving feedback well. Over time and with effort, regular feedback, given with care and for the growth of the person receiving feedback, can have a huge impact in helping someone reach their full potential. A leader who gives and receives feedback well is definitely one worth following.

Until next time, lead on,

Image by mitchell haindfield. Used under CC by 2.0 license.