Mastering Feedback: Use These 3 No-Nonsense Strategies To Give and Receive Feedback Like A Pro
Most people are bad at feedback, both giving and receiving. If you’re one of them, you’re leaving a lot of opportunity on the table. In this article I share 3 critical strategies, plus a host of scripts, for mastering feedback. Put these to work for you and watch as your opportunities multiply and your reputation grows.
Feedback, Any Feedback, Is A Precious Gift
A few years back, Precision Nutrition developed a free online course for health and fitness professionals. When it was finished the team sent it around to a number of influential colleagues to see if they’d be interested in sharing it with their readers, prospects, and clients.
Mike Boyle—a friend and one of the most respected coaches in the business—was quick to send his feedback, which wasn’t particularly flattering. Specifically, he criticized the main image on the landing page, a friendly-looking young personal trainer with a shaved head. He was wearing a blue tank top and his muscular arms were crossed.
Mike felt the image perpetuated industry stereotypes, was a huge cliché, and would be rejected by most readers. He essentially told us he’d never promote the course unless we did better.
Understandably, after working hard on the course for nearly six months, team members had a strong knee-jerk reaction. From what I could see, they felt a mix of ego pain and defensiveness. And some flat out disagreed with his assessment.
They weren’t sure what to do next. Should they believe Mike and change the image? Or forget Mike and do what they thought was best?
My response was a little different. Instead of judging Mike’s skill in delivering feedback, arguing against his position, or accepting his position blindly, I got curious.
I wondered: “Is Mike right here?” “If so, how did our entire team miss seeing what he’s so clearly seeing?” “If not, what is he missing?” Finally “How could we know, for sure, if his criticism is valid?”
We decided to let our audience answer the question. We’d create five different landing pages for the course, each with a different image, and send 20 percent of our audience to each page.
From there we’d see which converted the best, in other words, which better compelled visitors to sign up.
Before launching the test, though, I emailed Mike to express deep gratitude for his feedback. Truth is, Mike was the only person who actually stepped up, took time out of his busy schedule, and offered his honest, unfiltered thoughts. Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote:
I just wanted to send a quick note to thank you for your feedback on our free course landing page (i.e. the tank top dude).
Honest, useful feedback is so valuable and, I’ve found, gets rarer the more “successful” I become. (Unless, of course, I spend too much time on Facebook. Lots of it there 😉 )
Anyway, I shared it with the design team to help them further refine their ideas. I find designers sometimes lean on clichés and we have to push them really hard to think differently about health and fitness images.
With that said, we do a lot of split testing. In fact, based on your feedback, we now have 5 different images we’re testing to see which performs the best in terms of sign-ups.
The attached is our baseline landing page for the course.
But we’ll be testing 4 other versions to see which “wins.” (Including tank top guy, which a percent of our audience will see, but certainly not all). In my experience, the winner is never the one we bet on. It’s always a surprising dark horse candidate.
Anyway, again, wanted to thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts. Super valuable to us. And super rare. I value it very much.
This wasn’t me trying to flatter or “suck up” to Mike. I honestly, genuinely felt grateful for his feedback. My gratitude increased when the split test generated a winning image that none of us would have expected, an image we’re still using to this day because the landing page is converting at a percentage that’s way above industry standards.
Again, this was only possible by looking past his style and focusing on his substance. By getting curious and asking “What can we learn from feedback?”, “How can we find out of the feedback is right?”, and “Should we do something different based on it?” And by sending a grateful and graceful response to Mike to ensure he’s willing to share his feedback in the future.
If we saw Mike’s feedback as an attack on our skills, talents, or worth, we would have lost a learning opportunity, a business opportunity, and a relationship building opportunity.
Based on our email exchange, Mike did share the course with his audience, which sent a lot of prospects our way. Plus he also sent a nice response to me; my reputation was enhanced in his eyes.
Of course, it’s easy to talk about receiving feedback well when it’s so clearly beneficial. But what if comes from an ogre boss or a cranky client?
Well, personally, I see all feedback as valuable. Accepting it well is an essential part of becoming successful. Seeing past style and looking at substance pays huge dividends.
This is true even if someone is so bold as to suggest: “You suck at X!”
The trick is to remember this acronym: W.A.I.T., which stands for Why Am I Talking? In other words, when someone’s giving feedback, of any kind, don’t argue, defend, justify, or react. Just quietly receive it. Even better, thank them for it regardless of how it makes you feel in the moment.
Thanks for being open enough to sharing this.
Can you tell me a little more about why you think that way?
I’d like to do better at this in the future and it’d be really helpful to understand what you’re seeing and how I might improve.
This is easier if you remember you’re in control.
You don’t have to do anything with the feedback. It’s not necessarily even valid or true. But deciding its worth, or whether to take action on it, isn’t something to do in real-time.
Your goal is to simply receive all data without blocking transmission. Gather now, process later. You can evaluate what’s worth taking action on once you’ve had the processing time. From there you can use your growth mindset to learn, adapt, and evolve based on what you think was valuable.
In the end, if you practice this skill you’ll eventually see everything — even vitriolic Facebook comments questioning your viability as a human — as an opportunity to help you get better.
Receiving Feedback Well Is One Thing, Hunting It Is Another
On a recent trip, I asked a colleague, “If you were CEO of a company, would you hire me? If yes, what would you hire me to do?”
As we have a long-standing relationship of honest, supportive, helpful feedback, his response was, “Well, I certainly wouldn’t hire you to do any kind of management.”
Now, I co-founded one of the world’s largest nutrition coaching, education, and software companies. I helped it grow from $0 to a valuation of over $200 million with no investors or bank loans, and helped grow the team from 2 to 100 people.
I could have chosen to get offended or argue for why he’s wrong. But that would have denied the truth of his statement. Because management is what I concentrate on the least.
At management, I’m mediocre at best. Since I’m not very good at it, and I don’t enjoy it, I’m always trying to avoid it. So management is a growth opportunity for me.
Yet it happens to be one that I’m not going to act on now because, at this stage of my career, I’m focused on a few other, more important ones.
Since I decided to keep my mouth shut (W.A.I.T.) he continued on, sharing a few other growth areas for me (that I have acted on) and a lot of positive feedback that was equally helpful.
Had I gotten offended, argued, or denied the first point, I would have signaled to him that I wasn’t actually interested in his feedback. He might have shut his mouth too. And I’d have missed out on all that other useful information he shared, the stuff that came after the first part.
This idea of actively soliciting feedback is what I call “hunting feedback.” The fastest learners I know do it aggressively. They’re on a mission. They collect more feedback per day, per week, per month, per year than everyone else. This exposes them to every possible growth opportunity.
To accomplish this myself, I send standing requests to clients and colleagues, friends and family members, to share their feedback—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I let them know that, although I might not always enjoy criticism in the moment, I want and need it. That I’ll be receptive to it. That I’ll view it as a gift.
Here’s a script for how you might do the same:
Can I ask you to help me with something important?
Growth is really important to me at this point in my life. So I’m asking some of the people I respect and admire to share feedback on how I’m doing—good, bad, or ugly—whenever it pops into their minds.
This is so important to me because, like everyone else, I have blind spots. I have to rely on the folks around me to help me see what I’m missing so I can be a better coach and colleague, friend and family member.
Please know that I want you to be as honest as possible. In exchange, I’ll do my best to not respond emotionally or defensively. I consider this feedback a gift, no matter how difficult some of it might be to hear.
Hopefully there will be a nice balance of positive and negative. But it’s ok, too, if there isn’t.
Is this something you’re comfortable doing?
Likewise, I take every opportunity to ask for feedback situationally: After a coaching session, after completing a piece of work, after a difficult conversation, or after a particularly fun day.
When that feedback comes, I make good on my promise. I collect these “data” like laboratory notes for later evaluation and try to never argue, defend, or react to it emotionally.
Of course, not all feedback should be weighted equally. Some people are more articulate, thoughtful, or believable than others. Theirs should be weighted as the most important. At the same time, the more feedback the better. And all feedback should be considered.
(I learned the concept from billionaire investor Ray Dalio. When evaluating opinions, he most heavily weights the ideas of those who “have repeatedly and successfully accomplished the thing in question, who have a strong track record with at least three successes , and have great explanations of their approach when asked”.)
This won’t always be easy. Most people hide from feedback because there’s risk. If it’s a particularly sensitive or caustic topic, it can guillotine your ego. And when you’re feeling hurt, your more primitive brain centers can take over, overruling higher brain centers.
The result: You externalize the hurt, defend against it, attack the person giving it. Which prevents your learning, strains your relationship, and guarantees you won’t get feedback—so necessary for growth—in the future.
Yet by recognizing that feedback is your only reliable path to growth, by looking at substance over style, by remembering W.A.I.T., and by getting as much feedback as possible, your skill will quickly build in this domain.
You’ll be in a position to maximize every growth opportunity. Plus your reputation will grow as people start to see you as a mature, seasoned, respectful professional.
Learn To Give Great Feedback Too
Learning to hunt feedback brings a host of career-changing benefits. However, if you’re not careful, it could come at a cost. Because, when some individuals get really good at taking feedback, they get really bad at giving it.
All about substance over style, they forget that most others aren’t yet hunting feedback, they’re hiding from it. And most others aren’t practicing W.A.I.T. (Why Am I Talking?), opting for D.R.I.P. (Deny, Repress, Ignore, Pretend) instead.
Even if you share the same kind of feedback you personally thrive on, if you’re too direct or you offer unsolicited feedback, you could be triggering a judgement war.
They’ll judge you for being mean, unkind, threatening their ego, or lacking tact. And you’ll judge them for being irrational, fixed minded, and lacking the ability to take feedback well.
That’s a lose-lose proposition. They don’t get the opportunity to hear about how they can improve. And you’ll have wasted your time doing something you thought they’d appreciate.
So, as you intentionally set out to grow your reputation, your next goal is to become more adept at sharing your feedback with others in thoughtful, caring, compassionate ways. To recognize that most people won’t have your feedback-taking skills and that you’ll have to craft your delivery in a way that makes others more likely to receive your comments well.
If this feels like a mismatch, it is. You are being asked to do double the work. To do the heavy lifting of turning all the feedback others send to you—no matter how insensitively it’s delivered—into something useful. And of turning all the feedback you’re sending others into something that’s compassionate and shared sensitively.
But that’s part of the deal. Earning respect, garnering a rock-solid reputation, and becoming the ultimate change maker means doing work others aren’t willing to do.
Seven Strategies For Giving Better Feedback
If you’re looking for ways to give better feedback, here are seven strategies I’ve found helpful.
Feedback Strategy #1:
Give feedback when things have calmed down.
Why it’s so useful:
Some people hold a false belief that things have to be “worked out” in the heat of the moment, not realizing that this is most often going to worsen the conflict, not solve it. But all feedback— positive, neutral, or negative—should be delivered at a time when emotions are low. This helps both parties feel calm and safe. Even positive feedback can feel disingenuous if it’s delivered in the middle of conflict.
Speak slowly and quietly.
Why it’s so useful:
Whenever emotions run high, heart rates accelerate, and people speak more quickly and intensely. This leads to emotionally charged, unnaturally fast (and loud) monologues that are never well received. That’s why, when giving feedback, wait until things are calm. Then calm them down even more. Slow your tempo. Speak softly. Even if you feel like you’re going too slow, that’s better than rushing and being too loud.
Be neutral, curious, and focus on the relationship.
Why it’s so useful:
When giving feedback of any kind, deliver it with neutral language and natural curiosity. “I noticed that . . .” or “Can you tell me more about . . .” are better than “You always . . .” Also, make it clear that you care about them and their growth, that your goal is to build the relationship, that they don’t have to respond to your feedback right away, and, in most cases, they don’t have to do anything with the feedback at all. They’re in control.
Be specific and as objective as possible.
Why it’s so useful:
Rather than global, general feedback like “You’re awesome!” or “That sucked!” give precise, specific, concrete feedback that’s situated in a particular time and place, and that describes something that really happened (or didn’t).
For instance: “When you presented to our team on Tuesday afternoon, I noticed that you discussed Topic X but not Topic Y. From my perspective, including Y would have been useful because Z.”
“When interacting with Client X just now by the front desk, I noticed that you couldn’t find the sign- up sheet. Would it be worth looking at the front desk organization system to see if we can make the process easier?”
Feedback Strategy #5:
Always put your feedback in context.
Why it’s so useful:
When sharing constructive feedback, always make it clear that your comments don’t represent the sum total of how you feel about the recipient as a team member or as a person.
After all, they’re in your life because of good things. So make sure you communicate that you like them, respect them, think they’re awesome, and are sharing your feedback in that context.
Feedback Strategy #6:
Share lots of positive feedback too.
Why it’s so useful:
In most successful romantic partnerships, there’s a 20:1 ratio of positive comments to negative when not arguing. But, even when arguing, those couples have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative.
So make sure you’re sharing the right balance of positive to negative feedback. Instead of always “catching people doing something wrong,” be sure to “catch them doing something right.” This makes it easier for them to understand the context above and to take constructive criticism in stride.
Positive feedback also gives people a useful “action plan” for what to correct, improve, and/or develop.
For instance, “I overheard you chatting with Client X, and I noticed your sales communication is really coming along well! In particular it sounds like you’ve been working on active listening and trying to understand their story in order to tailor our membership offer to what they’re seeking. That’s really effective! Keep working on that!”
Now the recipient knows exactly what they did well, and what they can continue to strengthen too.
Feedback Strategy #7:
Ask for permission.
Why it’s so useful:
This might sound obvious but it’s often lost: People usually take feedback better when they’ve asked for it.
So start by asking for permission: “Would it be okay if I shared some feedback about X with you?”
With that said, sometimes you’ll have to share unsolicited feedback. In those cases, consider calling it out: “I wanted to share some unsolicited feedback with you. I totally get that you haven’t asked for it and that I’m just showing up with it unannounced. Is now a good time to talk about this? If not, when’s better?”
Feedback, even if it’s delivered unskillfully, is a precious gift.
Accepting it well is an essential part of becoming successful. Receive all data without blocking transmission. You can evaluate what’s worth taking action on once you’ve had the processing time. From there you can use your growth mindset to learn, adapt, and evolve based on what you think was valuable.
Aggressively hunt feedback, expose yourself to all growth opportunities.
The fastest learners are on a mission. They collect more feedback per day, per week, per month, per year than everyone else. And this exposes them to every possible growth opportunity available.
Learn to give great feedback too.
Giving feedback is an art and it takes time to craft your delivery in a thoughtful, caring, and compassionate way so others receive it well. Applying simple strategies, like asking for permission, being specific and objective, and waiting to provide feedback until things have calmed down will get you on the right path.
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