I think the best way to receive feedback is to ask for it — not something a lot of people do.
When I was a recruiter, during my first few client meetings I was accompanied by a more senior person on the team. They did this to make sure I didn’t f*ck things up, as a new-comer inevitably does.
This is what happened the first few times. After a client meeting would finish, me and the more senior recruiter would be walking outside together back towards the train station.
The first words from their mouths would be, ‘How do you think that meeting went?’
Clueless to my own behavior, and also lacking any historical precedent of what a successful meeting looked like, I was unable to look at myself or the meeting very objectively.
‘Oh, yeh. I think the meeting went well. It seemed like they really liked us.’
My “feedback” about the meeting and my own performance in the meeting was shallow at best.
The next question would be something like this…
‘What do you think you did well? What do you think you could improve?’
That’s when I had to pause and think for a minute.
‘Hmm, well, I think I did a good job presenting the company….But perhaps me explanation of the contract wasn’t too clear….’
Now some self-reflection was starting to come out.
In fact, there’s a shit ton that can be improved.
There is ALWAYS room for improvement.
At that point, the senior recruiter would give me a couple of tidbits of advice—although there were definitely several areas of improvement, they stuck to just a couple as to not overwhelm me with feedback — that perhaps didn’t seem so obvious to me.
‘You might not have noticed, but you were swiveling around in your chair a little bit too much. It’s a bit unprofessional. This is perhaps because you were nervous, and you probably didn’t notice.’
‘Huh, no, I didn’t notice at all.’
‘My suggestion is to try and always mirror the person in front of you, that way you can connect with their body language and also systematically reduce any nervous ticks.’
The feedback went on. And I took it, and I improved.
Eventually, I stopped receiving feedback.
Instead, I started giving feedback.
I graduated from amateur to leader — or at least I had been to enough meetings to know my shit.
I was also doing more high level shit — negotiating bigger size deals, more complicated terms, and using more creative methods to find new clients.
Now, I still went to lots and lots of meetings. I knew that I had blind spots and I consciously tried to improve. A lot of this comes down to preparing.
But I was unhappy that the stream of feedback that I once had received almost daily suddenly stopped.
So, I started asking for feedback.
I’d aim to take more senior colleagues or peers with me, and at the end of the meeting on the same walks back to the taxi, I’d say, ‘What feedback do you have for me? Is there something I could have done better? Something we could have done better?”
When the meeting goes well, when we really nail it…there’s STILL room for improvement. Sometimes it’s not huge, but big change happens incrementally.
Cherish it and take the feedback and use it to improve.
In a company with a strong feedback culture, like perhaps in many tech companies, it’s expected, and it comes out a lot easier.
But still, people are often scared to give feedback. That is, if it’s unsolicited. Giving people unsolicited feedback can be stressful. Many of us are naturally non-confrontational. More often than not, people don’t want to hear our opinions, and maybe they’ll just think “oh, hopefully their boss says something about it…”
You can create an environment where everyone is comfortable giving each other feedback. That’s one way.
But the other way is to create an environment where people are comfortable ASKING for feedback.
It starts with you, and it starts today.
In your next meeting, whether it’s a 1–1 meeting or a meeting with a client or an internal team meeting, or a presentation you have to give — make a note to ask for feedback.
Whether it’s a feedback form or preferably direct feedback, face to face, doesn’t matter much as long as you actually get the feedback.
When you get the feedback, don’t interrupt the other person. Just listen.
Let there be silence. Let it sink in. And then, instead of saying anything, ask a question.
‘Can you be more specific?’
Ask questions, clarify if necessary. But never be defensive. Never tell them you don’t agree with it or try to convince them their feedback is wrong. Your emotions are bound to come out…Just let it sit there for a bit.
In fact, you don’t have to address the feedback in that conversation necessarily. You can say, “Thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate. I’m going to think about that and see what steps I can take to improve. Thank you.”
When you 1) ask for feedback and 2) are appreciative and thankful for feedback rather than defensive…you create a virtuous cycle of self improvement. People will be more comfortable giving you feedback and you will be a better person because of it.
That’s called a win-win.