Truth be told, I was a little nervous. Not because I was under prepared, but because I was presenting to a room full of presenters. The audience was a group of STEM college instructors, and I was delivering a closing address for an event. Besides a few technical glitches, things went smoothly, and the crowd seemed engaged. My presentation was by no means perfect, but overall, it was a success.
As the applause died down, I felt my nerves subside. I unhooked my mic, took a deep breath, and started to walk away from the podium. And then, one of the attendees quickly approached me.
“Nice job today,” she said. “I’d like to offer you some feedback on your presentation. May I email it to you?”
“Um…” I gulped, caught off guard. “Of course. Here’s my card.”
I could feel my chest pounding, my face burning, my pulse raising. What was she going to say, and why couldn’t she just say it now? Had I completely misjudged the response to my address?
Feedback can be tough to receive under any circumstances. However, according to Dr. Mary Uhl-Bien, leadership expert and author of Organizational Behavior, it’s essential for professional growth and relationship building.
“Because feedback can be emotionally charged, people tend to avoid it,” Dr. Uhl-Bien says. “But feedback is actually a very caring act—one that is meant to help the person receiving it.”
So how do we best prepare ourselves for receiving feedback? Dr. Uhl-Bien offers the following tips:
- Recognize how important it is for your development. Feedback gives us a glimpse into our blind spots—things we can’t see about ourselves but that the world perceives. Through this self-awareness, you can adjust and improve.
- Make it safe for others to give you feedback. Be aware of your body language and eye contact as you receive feedback. Do you LOOK like you are open to feedback, or do you have rigid posture, crossed arms, or averted eyes?
- Switch to listening mode. Since receiving feedback can be stressful, people often use talking as an avoidance or defense mechanism. Consciously try to listen and take in the message rather than strategize rebuttals or dodge the conversation.
- Manage your vulnerability. There are times when you might feel vulnerable or anxious about receiving feedback. It’s okay to tell the person delivering the feedback that you’re nervous about her input so that she might adjust her communication style.
- Engage in effective feedback-seeking behaviors. When you recognize the powerful tool feedback can be for your personal development, it makes sense to seek it out on an ongoing basis. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like, “Can you tell me how that went?” or “What could I have done better?” to elicit the best response.
- Be truly grateful to those who give you feedback. Successful delivery of feedback requires a strong trust relationship between the giver and receiver. Those relationships are strengthened when the receiver is able to view feedback as a gift.
- Know yourself. Sometimes feedback isn’t what you want to hear; this is where self-awareness comes into play. Consider the source’s motivations and reflect on them relative to your own experiences and perceptions. Most importantly, remember that all feedback—even hurtful or seemingly destructive—is important because it helps you understand your work environment and relationships.
After the STEM event, I anxiously awaited an email from the attendee who had approached me. And yes, I prepared for an onslaught of unflattering points she could make about my message or delivery. When her email hit my inbox the next morning with the subject line “Feedback from Laurie,” I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was complimentary. She said the content of the presentation was valuable, suggested that I streamline my final segment, and introduced a new probing question I could use to engage the audience.
When I emailed her back to thank her for her thoughtful feedback, I was genuinely grateful; I saw almost immediately that her thoughts were spot-on. Then I set out to revise my presentation for subsequent deliveries, incorporating her suggestions throughout. And as I completed my final edits, I hit REPLY to Laurie’s original email, changing the subject line to, “Your feedback please!” I wanted her to comment on my revisions. Feedback, as it turns out, isn’t as scary as I thought.
Dr. Mary Uhl-Bien, BNSF Railway Endowed Professor of Management Leadership at Texas Christian University, is the author of Organizational Behavior. She offers students the opportunity for real-time feedback through the book’s accompanying WileyPLUS course and ORION adaptive practice tools.
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