The Executive Brief 
Vol.2, No.2
April 2014

Receiving Feedback


feedback red word on conceptual compass on white background
Performance appraisals have been around for decades - and complaints about their effectiveness have been around almost as long.  In "Performance Appraisals Are Dead, Long Live Performance Management," (Forbes, 7/12/12) Ed Lawler does a masterful job of unmasking the "so let's just get rid of them" movement.  Most organizations that espouse the "let's get rid of them" approach are, in reality, working to improve feedback by fostering a "coaching culture." Much has been written about the manager's role in creating such a culture, and about how to encourage/teach/hold managers accountable for providing more frequent and meaningful feedback to their team members.


However, a healthy coaching culture also requires skills in receiving feedback.  Whether it is a team member receiving feedback from a boss, a boss from a team member, or a peer from a peer, skills in listening, clarifying, evaluating, internalizing, and using feedback are crucial.  A recent Harvard Business Review article entitled "Find the Coaching in Criticism" (Jan-Feb, 2014, by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone) provides what we think is a terrific primer on receiving feedback.  Not only does it explore why receiving feedback can be so challenging for us; it also provides six tips to improve our effectiveness in putting feedback to work.  Here is a quick summary of the recommendations:

  • Know your tendencies.  Know your typical response to feedback so that you can purposely manage your reactions and behaviors. 
  • Disentangle the "what" from the "who."  Relationships, with all of their attendant complexities, inevitably color our reactions to feedback.  Focusing on the validity of the feedback as opposed to our feelings about the messenger is a difficult but crucial skill.
  • Lean toward coaching.  When receiving feedback, it is far too easy to slip into a "oh, no, I'm being evaluated" mode, which only serves to increase anxiety and defensiveness.  Instead, the authors encourage a default mode of "Okay, this is valuable guidance that I can use."
  • Unpack the feedback.  It's also far too easy to jump quickly to a conclusion about feedback--either to discount it ("no way do I do that") or to acquiesce ("wow, I really do need to do better").  Instead, the authors suggest asking questions and exploring the feedback, both with the feedback giver and with others, to make sure that the full issue is clear. 
  • Ask for just one thing.  This suggestion is all about proactivity.  Instead of waiting for others to approach you, the authors recommend taking the initiative to ask for bite-sized chunks of feedback on a regular basis.  The emphasis is on "bite-sized."  "What is one thing I could do to serve customers more effectively?" is a much easier question for feedback givers to answer than "What kind of feedback do you have for me?"
  • Engage in small experiments.  Behavior change isn't easy--and sometimes we aren't sure exactly how to go about changing.  Trying something new just once to test out the advice you receive is less intimidating than deciding to make wholesale, grandiose change.   
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Need Feedback Assistance?
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enVision.360 offering shows both strengths and derailers to allow for well-rounded feedback:  
Additionally, our enVision Coaching provides intense, one-on-one support for personal development. With a combined 50+ years of experience, we are known to get results!
Optimizing Performance at the Organizational Level
Leadership Series from the UW-Oshkosh MBA Program
Wednesday, May 7, 2014 from 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM
We are excited to be guest speakers of the UW Oshkosh MBA Leadership Series for 2013-2014. In this engaging program, you will:
  • Obtain a working model of optimal organizational performance.
  • Discuss the six macro-elements that require executive team and mid-
    management alignment and commitment to optimize organizational
  • Conduct a projective alignment assessment of your own organization, based upon survey elements from the enVision Alignment™ Model.
  • Enjoy candid discussions where you will explore organizational performance strengths and barriers or gaps.

Tom Wiltzius, Ph.D.
Gail Wise, Ph.D.
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