How to handle feedback and use it to your advantage – my feedback on feedback!
Feedback is a funny thing!
How do you process it?
How does it make you feel?
As a speaker I get feedback all the time, both written and verbal. I once met a fellow speaker at his office and he had big piles of A4 feedback sheets from recent events all over the floor of his office, there was half a tree’s worth on his office floor! It’s just part of my world.
Ironically last week after doing two speaking events to speaker bookers where I was there to receive feedback (and bookings!), the tables were turned when on Saturday I became the judge for a speaking competition and I had to then give feedback to other speakers! It’s a tricky thing to give feedback, especially to new speakers who need encouragement and constructive feedback to help them improve. A healthy balance is key.
Feedback is a lot easier to give it out, than to receive it for most people.
Some people I’ve met run away from all feedback as they’ve been hurt in the past from a boss who was blunt, manipulative or just a poor people person. But even if we have had bad experiences, it’s part of life now and we need to find a way to process it.
Here are my 6 tips on dealing with feedback of any sort.
My feedback on feedback!
1. Learn to sieve it!
I’ve learnt to listen to all feedback but to sieve it very thoroughly in my head, sometimes even when it’s being given to me! Feedback comes with baggage, so ask – who’s giving me this? Why are they giving me this? What are their motives? Keep sieving and you can disregard some feedback and take on board some, but not all. I did a training day for a company last year and the feedback was strangely mixed. I was shocked to be honest as I thought it had gone well and the verbal feedback on the day was great. But the written feedback we got a few days later was decidedly mixed. So I decided to process it properly. I wrote down the feedback that i was concerned about, reflected on it, spoke to my colleagues and eventually i realised that this just didn’t seem right. So, I called the CEO who’d booked me and had a chat. I told her that i was concerned about the mixed feedback as this usually didn’t happen. We talked for ten minutes and the penny dropped. She told me that the feedback sheets were not done until the days after and they were done in an open office (maybe even around the water cooler). she also said that some of the delegates were recently retired from an industry that is known for very harsh feedback. I also got the impression that some of them didn’t like training and didn’t want to be there anyway, especially as they were used to working independently and only saw each other a few times a year. They were also used to giving training, not receiving training. The CEO then assured me that she was was very happy with the day and will use us again in the future. Phew! If I hadn’t processed that properly and hadn’t made that call, then I’d never have known the truth behind the unusual feedback. Keep sieving!
2. Not everyone’s opinion really matters.
This seems harsh I know, but it’s true. I have seen new speakers give other new speakers long and detailed feedback as of they are experts. Their feedback as a human being is perfectly valid of course, but unless they are experienced in that field, it’s just not as valuable as someone who’s been speaking successfully for years. I personally listen to feedback from speakers who I respect, and I’ve changed bits of my talks because of those speakers, but that group is a select few. Everyone’s opinion is valid but it doesn’t always carry the same weight and impact.
3. Don’t take it personally.
This a challenging one, but if you want to keep on going its essential. If you get feedback on a work issue, its work, its not usually a personal attack. Just because someone says that your report writing isn’t as good as it should be doesn’t mean that you are a bad person! It means that you may need some more training or you need to give that task to someone else to do. Play to your strengths more. It’s business not personal. Getting that into perspective really helps. Life is challenging enough without battering our self-esteem with stuff that isn’t relevant.
How to handle feedback and use it to your advantage – my feedback on feedback!
4. Ask yourself, is this true?
Some feedback is right and proper. Some feedback we should take on board, it’s what makes us better at our job or helps us become a better person. Self awareness is the key to personal and professional growth and part of that is being able to say, “Yeah they were right, I need to change that”. When I teach presentation skills I always make a point to say at the beginning of the session “I’m a pretty nice person, I’ll make this fun today, you will get chocolate(!), but you need to know that I will give you direct feedback too, because we all need it to get better. Please dont be offended, it’s just feedback…”. Once they know that, they seem to relax more and at the end of the session they always come out as better speakers and some even grow and become more confident generally – that’s why I love teaching presentation skills. A few weeks ago I was coaching a group and during the final speeches one delegate was using a scrappy, folded A4 sheet for notes, but it was becoming a distraction. So I stopped the talk and took the piece of paper from her. She carried on and nailed the talk, of course she didn’t need the piece of paper, she didn’t need notes, but without that feedback that leader would probably use a sheet of A4 notes for the rest of their professional life! She didn’t need them, she was great. She took it on board and simply got better. It was a privilege to see someone take on board feedback without offence. Sometimes we have to do that, it’s part of our job.
5. Keep the good stuff and use it to your advantage!
So we’ve talked about using the constructive feedback well, but lets also use the good feedback as a motivator! I literally keep the good stuff. I have a little book that i use where i keep good feedback or comments from clients, even stuff from family and friends. I know it might sound weird or egotistical, but it’s not, it’s a tool in my toolbox. When I’m traveling to gigs, or even just before I step on stage I have a look at these pieces of feedback and its focuses me for the task ahead and gets me into the right state of mind. Often as humans our default state is a negative one, we think of the worst rather than the best. This little trick will get you in the right mood to perform better. It’s not a Jedi mind trick – it’s just a simple way to get us on the right track to success. We tend to keep not-so-good feedback easier than good feedback. I’ve decided to keep the good feedback more prevalent. You should too, maybe you already do? By the way – no one sees this apart from me, it’s personal and private. It’s for me and my brain :)
6. It’s not the full picture.
The other thing about feedback is that often I can be speaking to a room of 200+ people and just chat to three people afterwards, so you never know what people took away. I got these emails in the last few weeks, from events where I got little or no feedback at the time. These are keepers for me and will go into my little book:
After a business event, where, If I’m honest the talk seemed like “hard work” – I got this:
“Hi Lee, Just had to drop you a line to say a big thank you again. I’ve had a couple of emails through saying how much they enjoyed your talk. I don’t normally get this! You obviously did something right!” So it turned out that the audience just weren’t very responsive – it was personality types, thats all. They loved it, but as an extrovert I just didn’t see it like that!
And after a talk in a challenging school, I got this too:
“Dear Lee, My name is ________. You spoke at my school ________. I dont think you remember me but we talked after your talk and all i would like to say to you is thank you. You really changed the way i thought of my exams, well i have finished my exams and school all together. I have started listening to your book How to enjoy and succeed at school and college. And i am really loving the book. I have enrolled in _______college…” He then went on to ask me a question about something I’d said in my talk. It made my day.
Feedback: collect it, use it, process it wisely, read it when you need to, but don’t live your life for it!