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🌟 How to Make Receiving Feedback Easier
I’m Brian and each week I publish content on personal growth. Sometimes it will be things I’ve learned in my own growth experience, but most times I’ll be answering readers’ questions about personal growth. Send me your questions, and in turn, I’ll do some research & interviews and humbly offer the best advice I find.
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This is Part-2 in a series about feedback. If you missed Part-1: How and Why You Should Give People Feedback, you can read it here.
This week we’ll talk about receiving feedback, the reasons many of us avoid it, and how you can make receiving it easier.
True leaders love feedback! A friend of mine says the best leaders “demand feedback.” I subscribe to that. In the leadership work that I’ve done, I’ve noticed that the strongest leaders both give and receive feedback at an elevated level.
I also see people run for the hills when they know they’re about to receive feedback or squirm in their chairs when they hear that feedback is the next actionable step.
I used to be the same way and its such odd human behavior when we consider how massive the benefits of receiving feedback are. The benefits of feedback include things like:
↗️ It is a check and balance to confirm the direction we’re moving in.
⤴️ It helps us discover paths we didn’t know were options.
👀 It helps us identify habits that we don’t actually want to have in the first place.
There are many more benefits, but they all stem from a similar root driver.
You can’t see yourself from the outside, left, right, back, or top.
What makes feedback so powerful at its root is that feedback comes from angles that we simply can’t see in our first-person point of view. Or its things that we think we’re hiding successfully, but in reality, people can see it plain as day.
Usually, when I talk about feedback, I’ll mention that “we can’t see ourselves from the outside.” I thought it made sense to throw in the “left, right, back, and top” because feedback can come from angles we wouldn’t even suspect.
It’s like a corn maze. Have you ever done one of those? I did one as a kid for an elementary school field trip and I never forgot a few things about it.
When we started the corn maze, we were given a portion of the map and as we made our way through the corn maze, we would find more pieces of the map. It felt like my team in particular was getting more lost the more piece of the map we found. As the maze was closing, we needed help.
Something interesting about the maze is that it had towers in it where certain staff could monitor everything that was going on. They knew who had which pieces of the map, who was on track, and who was on the struggle bus 🙋.
When it finally came time to ask us for help, the guy on the tower just told us where to make turns. He knew where we made mistakes, backtracked, or should have gone. So he just yelled and pointed and before long, we were out of the maze. We got out because, from his vantage point, he could see things that we couldn’t; he saw a more clear picture.
There are people in our lives who can see stuff from angles that we can’t. They’ll be sitting above somewhere or behind or below and they can see our steps from a vantage point that isn’t possible for us. Without stopping to ask for that feedback support, we’d risk running around in the maze forever.
Once we open ourselves up to their feedback, the feedback stands a chance of having a compounding effect that lasts decades.
Feedback can apply to multiple aspects of your life.
When we open ourselves up to feedback, is has an opportunity to apply to multiple aspects of our lives. Usually, the person giving us the feedback is focused on one aspect of our life: our job, our family, our health, etc.
They don’t have purview into all aspects of our lives, but when they have the courage to share feedback in the area they are familiar with, its impact can spill over into the others.
Feedback is layered like that. The person giving us feedback usually sees the surface level impact. But if we, as the recipient, take a deeper cut, we can see what the feedback is really pointing at, which gives us an opportunity to make even greater changes.
Here is an example that a friend of mine shared with me:
“One of the best pieces of feedback I ever received was about how I parent my kids. At the time, I was putting my kids to bed every night and waking them up in the morning to get ready for school. I’d always go to bed after them and wake up before them. The result was I was constantly exhausted.
Then someone told me: ‘Why don’t you just let them go to bed on their own, but make it clear that they have to wake up by a certain time. Make them responsible for getting enough sleep.’
That feedback changed my life. Now I go to bed whenever I need to. Sometimes the kids are tired when they wake up because they stayed up too late, but they’re responsible for it and they tend to go to bed responsibly because they know that the wake-up time isn’t changing.
That feedback also impacted how I give them chores or how I expect homework to be completed. At the core, the feedback was about making them responsible for their actions, and I did. I realized that my job was to set a structure that they can operate within and to hold that structure up.
Then I shared that feedback with friends who were also exhausted from managing their kids. None of us knew that this was an option and it’s made all of our lives so much easier.” - H.F.
I doubt that the person who gave her that feedback about bedtime thought it would apply to dishes, homework, or summer projects. They likely didn’t think that she would become an ambassador of the doctrine. They were giving feedback on one thing. But it spread out to the family structure of not just her family, but her friends’ families as well.
You might have similar examples, where you received a single piece of feedback and it became clear to you that there were multiple places that would benefit from a behavioral shift.
So given that it’s so beneficial, why do some of us run for the hills?
We tend to avoid feedback because it hurts.
Feedback stings. It can be Ego Fracturing. Most of us are trying really hard to keep our lives, families, and careers together. So when someone comes in and tells us about something we should change, it can be frustrating. Can’t they see how hard we’re trying!?
Here are some reasons why getting feedback can be painful:
🥵 It sucks hearing about things you aren’t doing well when you’re trying so hard.
😓 You’re probably in the midst of trying really hard when you get the feedback, so it’s easy to hear “try harder” as the tone of the feedback.
👊 Changing habits is TOUGH.
😤 We sometimes get feedback from people we don’t like or care for, which pisses us off.
If you want a recorded visual of how tough and annoying feedback can be, here’s a video of someone telling me my basketball-shooting form was wrong over… and over… and over again. Their feedback was correct, but I was trying so hard. I wanted to quit.
Aside from the reasons above, however, I think one of the less obvious reasons that feedback hurts is because humans are very empathetic (in general) to those we come into direct contact with. When you receive feedback, you don’t just think about all the people that will be impacted in the future by the changes that you make; you also think about all the people in the past who have already been impacted by your ignorance.
Let’s have fun with it: it would feel really embarrassing to realize that all your friends think you’re an asshole and have just been putting up with it for decades. Imagine the spiral you could go down when you think of all of the people who realized you were an asshole and didn’t stay in your life.
Let’s just continue to assume that you might have been an asshole from time-to-time. You’ve already impacted a bunch of people with your asshole ways and you’ll continue to impact them unless someone tells you the truth. So, would you rather know you were an asshole or continue plugging away unaware?
Maybe, unlike me, your real-world feedback wouldn’t be that you’re an asshole, but it could be some version of that. So, why not work on ways to make receiving feedback easier.
Two ways to make receiving feedback easier.
In my experience, good feedback is always a little challenging to hear and stings a little when you hear it. But, you can get better at receiving it. Here are the best two ways that I know of to make receiving feedback easier.
1. Get it more often, so it’s not as big of a deal.
I recently asked someone how they taught their 5-year-old son how to swim so well. They mentioned that swim lessons didn’t work. So, they just started letting him jump in the pool, struggle, nearly drown, then they’d lift him out. He’d then jump in again.
The repeated this over and over and over again. He struggled less and less each time because he was learning from past failures. Then, almost out of nowhere, he was swimming and didn’t need to be saved anymore.
Feedback is kind of like that. When you receive it too sporadically, it can feel like you’re drowning in all of the emotional aspects of it. Any individual feedback and feel like an anvil on your chest.
But the more and more you receive it, the less emotional weight any individual piece of feedback or feedback session has on you. You’ll realize it’s just someone’s viewpoint or opinion and you can do whatever you want with it.
You’ll get better at receiving and applying feedback with more practice. Once you’re “swimming” in it, you’ll be a crazy powerful human being
2. Only take it from people in the arena.
Have you ever read the Man in the Arena quote from Teddy Roosevelt? I’ll just paste it here for quick reference.
It applies to feedback in this way: we should focus on getting feedback from people who are in the arena with us. This would be people that you trust and respect and who are currently walking or have walked a path that you’re on. People who have also taken the risk to play the game that you’re playing.
This is something that triggers me a lot when I watch sports, live. In any arena, you’ll see some version of an overweight guy sitting in the stands, holding a beer, yelling at professional athletes to run faster, jump higher, or do better. My judgmental side will ask “what business does this guy have giving advice to that professional athlete!”
That’s the world we live in. Advice and feedback are everywhere and most of it should be ignored. Just… do nothing with it.
But, when you get it from people who are playing the game you’re playing, take it. It’s a gift!
Seek out the entrepreneurs who’ve failed and succeeded, the parents who’ve struggled their way through it, the artists who blew up. Take it from people who can impact your path, who believe in you, and who are coming from love and support. When you have people like that in your life who are giving you feedback, receiving feedback can feel easier.
Even if someone else has given you the same exact feedback before, hearing it from someone in the arena with you can carry more weight. Have you ever heard something like it was the first time, only to realize it wasn’t? Sometimes it just takes the “right person” to deliver it.
What’s the most helpful feedback you’ve ever received?
I asked around to get examples of the most helpful feedback that people have received. A few of the responses are below. Here are a few things that were interesting about the responses:
🧠 In almost all cases, they remembered exactly who told them that feedback, which says a lot about how we should be more courageous about giving feedback.
💭 Some of them knew the feedback and thought they had been hiding it.
🎁 They’re still unpacking and applying the feedback today. It rings and ripples in their minds.
I withheld their names and use initials below.
“I got really helpful/humbling feedback on my interviewing skills when I was driving for Lyft. I was too energetic/salesy in interviews.
The advice I got was to be cool, take a moment to plan what you want to say (even 15 seconds of silence is okay). Say it, then shut up. Responding to that feedback got me my job and I still use it today.” - P.W.
“One of the most powerful pieces of feedback I’ve heard was that someone experienced me as cold and coming from my head instead of my heart. I also really appreciated feedback (from multiple sources) that I seem to not trust myself.
That feedback hit me like a ton of bricks. It landed because I felt it but I thought I was fooling everyone.” - E.P.
“The feedback I got was this: ‘You know what’s wrong with you? That you think somethings wrong with you.’
It just landed for me as true. Like a question I’ve been trying to answer for a long time was answered. And it sent me on a journey to understand my emotional unavailability.” - C.H.
“I think the best piece of feedback that I’ve received is that I take things too personally at work. I get too personally invested in my coworkers. It’s great for team building and such, but its way too draining on me and isn’t sustainable in the long run.
So I’ve been more cognizant of that and it has helped me pick my battles and save that personal touch when it really matters.” - A.S.
Comfort Challenge: Ask for Feedback this week. Any feedback will do. For example, I asked a friend for feedback on some struggling thoughts I was having on the Black Lives Matter movement.
Other things inspiring me this week:
NBA players boycotting games in response to more police shootings.
These baboons are “fighting back” in South Africa. Can you imagine coming home to find a baboon in your kitchen?
That’s it for this week! Hit me up if you have any thoughts, feedback, or insights to share.
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