I was having a conversation today with one of my colleagues and we were discussing our shared desire to constantly better oneself.  He put it smartly when he said that some people were “Learners”.  Learners are the people that posses a natural curiosity and desire to acquire knowledge and information.  I think that this desire to increasingly improve and better yourselves is something that I look for in my close friends, and seems to be a pattern in the people I hire.  Everyone I know around me fits this description.

So if everyone around me wants to learn and be better then why isn’t it easy to improve?  Well, I think it is because taking feedback is so hard.  Taking feedback from some people is easy–those are usually the people that are skilled at giving feedback.  A lot of the truly great managers I have worked for fit this description.  Some say it is easier to get feedback from someone you trust or someone with whom you have a strong relationship; but I don’t think that is true.  As an example, I know I have the most trouble taking feedback from my significant other–although my relationship with him is the most important thing to me, and we love each other, but I know that the problems we have are more exacerbated than say similar annoyances with friends or coworkers.

Taking feedback, or any sort of criticism is hard, no matter where it is coming from.  Everyone has a reason, or an explanation as to why they did something, said something, or acted in a particular way.  And when someone has an issue with some aspect of a person’s behavior it is so difficult to just listen (I know I have a strong diversion to defend myself when faced with such a situation).  However, I think the best way to take feedback is to do just that–LISTEN.

Yes, thats right–the secret to all communication is listening.  Ask questions.  Truly try to understand the root of what is upsetting (or bothering, etc) the other person.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t think it should–in fact it may be that person’s own issue or insecurity.  Taking the time to understand what is the issue, though, allows you to see their perspective–because regardless of how justified you feel, the fact they are saying anything to you means there is a way to improve your interactions and subsequently your relationship.  If you do this, and you listen and try to understand, there is likely something to learn–maybe a way of doing things differently, or communicating more effectively with that person, and more importantly it gives you a chance to improve and better yourself!

People who are open to feedback and criticism tend to get more feedback.  This is good news for you because it gives you more chances to improve.  I always tell managers who work for me to ask each member of their team in 1:1s how they are doing.  Solicit feedback.  Tell your employees that you are trying to help them improve and you want them to help you improve.  Ask them how you can be better.  Most of them will open up and give suggestions.  Just always remember–listen!  If you don’t agree right off the bat, ask more questions.  Ask why they think you should do something differently?  Ask them for past experiences or examples.  Ask them how they would have handled the same situation.  Make sure you have a good understanding of what they are trying to tell you.  And afterwards always say “Thank you.”  Even if you don’t think it is valid feedback knowing their perspective is so valuable and really gives you the opportunity to improve your communication with that person.  And afterwards make sure to reflect on what they said and try to distill value from it.

So here are the basics just to recap:

  1. Anyone who has feedback for you is worth hearing out.
  2. Don’t defend yourself, try to understand their perspective instead (perceptions are reality after all).
  3. Listen. Listen. Listen.
  4. Reflect and try to figure out what you can learn and how you can improve (even if it is only your interactions with that individual).
  5. Tell them thank you for sharing their opinion with you.  That way you know they will continue to do so!

And just remember communication is all about people.  So ultimately the thing you are trying to employee is your relationship and communication with that person.  And often times, you learn a thing or two you can apply to other areas of your life. 🙂

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