Earlier this week, I wrote over on the Plexxi blog that the most important thing to look for in a potential new hire is coachability. If being coachable is the most important contributor to sustained long-term growth in employees, then how do you make yourself more coachable?
There are countless tips and tricks to being more observant, forever learning, and honing your crafts, but I believe that the most critical skills we all need to develop first is the ability to take feedback. When I say feedback, I mean all kinds: praise, insult, constructive, whatever. Most of us are dismal when it comes to receiving feedback.
The most obvious examples are when people receive criticism. We all get a little bit defensive. Sometimes the defense mechanism comes out in anger or frustration or visible annoyance. More often, it comes out as a litany of excuses as we debate point by point why the critique is somehow invalid or how our performance was just a one-off exception not indicative of long-term performance.
But what about positive feedback? When someone says something nice, we tend to be dismissive. “Oh, it was nothing.” Or worse yet, we become self-deprecating. “My speech pales in comparison to something you would say, but I guess it was ok.”
In effect, we are conditioned to deflect feedback in whatever form it comes. If this is not the way to handle feedback, what is?
In my experience, there are only two valid responses to any kind of feedback you receive: “Thank you” or “Tell me more”.
That’s right. Those are the only two valid responses. If someone is giving you positive feedback, you should be accepting and say “Thank you.” When you deflect, you are inadvertently telling that person that you do not value their positive opinion. Or even worse, you are being one of those people who disingenuously feigns modesty. Don’t be that person. Say thank you. Or if it has been a tough week, I suppose it is ok to say “Tell me more.”
When someone is giving you criticism, the same two responses are valid. Oftentimes the criticism is not actionable, so you might want to lead in with “Tell me more” (or some functional equivalent). Find out about the root cause. If someone says your discussion didn’t land with them, find out why. Was it because you didn’t land the punch line? Was it that you did not have enough compelling evidence? Was it that there was a more entrenched pre-seeded notion? To be coachable, you need feedback that is actionable. “Tell me more” is the most reliable way to get to something practical.
But not all feedback is good feedback. In fact, input is input. There is nothing about it that says you have to take it. When someone is giving you lame feedback about something, just say “Thank you.” Smile and be gracious. Listen and be attentive, but don’t think that you have to take all feedback. Whether they are trying to be genuinely helpful or they are just spouting off to sound smart, just say “Thank you.” It is a great way to acknowledge that you have heard them, and there is no real hook for them to continue on. It stops more insincere feedback dead in its tracks.
To be fair, I find this easy advice to give, but it is difficult in the moment to stick to. This is why I actually believe people should stick to the specific words and not just the spirit of the advice. If you force yourself to only use these words, you will find you are much better at receiving feedback.