Feedback Seeking for Development

Why would you want to seek feedback if you expect you’ll hear something you don’t really want to hear? We might fear that if we ask someone for their honest feedback, we won’t be able to handle their response.  Who really wants to open themselves up to criticism, which feels stressful?  From that position, we just don’t ask, and live in blissful ignorance and denial of what the other person really might think.  We might even make assumptions based on our past experiences with someone – if they were critical in the past, we might assume we already know what they would say, so we avoid asking. 

Our ego can also inhibit us from seeking feedback.  We might believe, for example, that we “should” know the right answers ourselves.  We might be concerned we’ll create a negative image by seeking feedback.  Or, maybe even that we will be seen as insecure if we seek feedback. 

Getting feedback becomes even more challenging as you rise in an organization.  People are less likely to give you open honest feedback, even if you do solicit it, because of your relative status/position.  You have to establish trust with them in order for them to share freely with you.  And, if you resist their feedback, you may never hear it authentically again.  In one case, I observed a leader regularly check in with his staff for their feedback, but because he became angry and rejected criticism one time, his employees stopped offering anything of real value when he asked for it.

With all the stresses related to receiving feedback, it’s no wonder we wouldn’t want to seek it.  Interestingly, however, according to Professor Susan Ashford from the University of Michigan, studies consistently show that feedback seeking:
• Does not hurt your image and may enhance it, especially for high performers
• Leads to more positive ratings by superiors, subordinates and peers
• And, seeking from peers results in more positive ratings from the boss

With all of these benefits, finding a way to embrace feedback seeking, and even see it as a gift, can be an important part of your personal development plan.  How can you do this without getting triggered if the feedback doesn’t feel positive?

It begins with our mindset and ability to reframe. There’s a great book on the topic by Stanford Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck: Mindset, the New Psychology of Success.  She identifies two mindsets, fixed and growth.  Here’s a quick overview of the differences between the two mindsets:

Fixed Mindset
• There is an underlying belief that our abilities are fixed
• Challenges trigger a fear of failure
• There is a constant need to prove yourself

Growth Mindset
• There is an understanding that abilities are not innate, but are developed through effort
• Challenges are viewed as a growth opportunities
• There is far greater resilience and optimism

The good news is that we can cultivate a growth mindset and positivity, which increase our ability to receive feedback constructively.  Here are a few helpful strategies to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset orientation:

1) Make positive assumptions about the other person’s intent for sharing their feedback with you.  What if the reality is that they do care about you and really want to help you succeed, even if it’s a tough message to deliver?
2) Ask yourself, how can you reframe the feedback from a more positive perspective?  If you’re telling yourself a story that it’s negative, what’s a more positive version?
3) When you feel yourself resisting feedback, ask yourself: “what’s the 2% that could be true?” 

Observe your mindset – if you are feeling “negative”, there is probably a fixed mindset beneath it.  Challenge yourself to adopt a learning perspective.

As a leader or aspiring leader, it’s also important to consider how you can foster a growth mindset in your employees and teams.  Recognize that critical feedback can trigger negative emotions that result in resisting feedback or self-doubt and other unproductive outcomes.  When setbacks occur, rather than framing them as “failure”, you can help frame the experience as learning.  This reframing tends to support a willingness to explore and innovate, vs. driving overly cautious or perfectionistic behaviors.  Fostering a growth mindset leads to positive business outcomes!

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