Even Negative Feedback Can Be Valuable

We often wonder what others really think about something we’ve said or done. The only way to find out is to get feedback from them, and it’s not always going to be positive. However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t all valuable. In fact, when someone disagrees with us and tells us why it can be the most valuable feedback we receive.

When someone criticizes us the first thing we usually want to do is to reject the criticism and respond with a justification of whatever it is we’ve said that they’re disagreeing with. This can make for a lively discussion at parties but if both sides just state their piece and don’t really listen to what the other side is saying the value of the feedback will be lost.

There are a couple of very good reasons to listen carefully to feedback, even if it’s critical of your position or saying something you completely oppose. The first reason is that you may learn something you didn’t know before – you might even have got a fact or two wrong.

The second good reason to listen to feedback is that if one person disagrees with you there could easily be others that feel the same way. This gives you a chance to either change your position or get additional information that will support your assertions next time around.

There’s a simple but very effective way to receive feedback, whether positive or negative, and to make sure you obtain the maximum possible value from it.

Listen actively

When someone is giving you feedback you’re probably only half-listening to what they have to say. The other half of your consciousness is formulating responses to what they’re saying, and when this happens you’re missing at least half the value of the feedback you’re getting.

Listening is an art – an active art. You have to work just as hard to listen to someone else as you do to speak to them. Focus on every word and if there’s any doubt about what they’re telling you ask them to clarify what they’ve said. Ask them for examples if it’s helpful to do so. Be sure that you fully understand what they’re saying.

Manage the feedback session

If the other person is angry or hostile do what you can to calm them down first, before probing for their thoughts or feelings. It’s up to you to manage the conversation in such a way that both of you are rational and aiming to discover the truth rather than just repeat what’s already been said.

One way of controlling a negative person who’s also a bit angry is to give them feedback on their position. Even if you just say “Yes, I can understand how you would feel that way” or “I hadn’t thought about that side of it” you’ll be showing respect for their feelings and calming down their hostility.

Another management technique that’s useful in feedback sessions is to repeat every point made by the other person. This helps ensure you fully understand what it is they’re trying to say as well as forcing the discussion into a point-by-point structure instead of just letting it all flow unchecked.

Ask questions to draw them out. One of the best is to ask: “If you were in my position what would you have done?” or something similar to this. It gives them a chance to make a contribution by creating an option to whatever it is that they see as unsatisfactory.

Apologize in the right way

Unless something is raised by the other person that completely changes your mind on the subject chances are you’ll still have some level of disagreement when the feedback session’s over. One good way to end it is with an apology that’s not necessarily an admission that you’ve been wrong.

Some examples of this type of apology are: “I’m sorry if I’ve upset you” and “If only we could have had this conversation before I said that”. It doesn’t mean you’ve accepted that you’re wrong; it does tell the other person that you would prefer not to have upset them with what you said or did.

Be thankful and say it

At the end of the feedback session (or to end the feedback session!) thank the other person for taking the trouble to tell you their feelings. Remember the two reasons for paying close attention to feedback – you might learn something new and you’ll be better prepared for next time.

In the final analysis you may not change anything despite the feedback you’ve received. At least you’ve learned some of the reactions others will have to your position and you’ll be better prepared next time you want to make the same points, and that’s how you can extract the value from negative feedback.

Article courtesy of RAN ONE: http://www.ranone.com/features/news.asp?ID=4069