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Feedback isn’t effective until you really listen

Learning to benefit from feedback from others requires work. We don’t naturally want to listen to others, especially when what they are saying makes us uncomfortable. But without feedback – even unpleasant feedback – we don’t know what we need to change.

Here are some ways we often unconsciously sabotage others’ efforts to give us feedback:

1. We ask for feedback and then argue with what is said. We try to prove the other person is wrong.

2. We tell people that their ideas are misguided or no good or won’t work; really a variation on #1.

3. We invite people to give feedback but structure the conversation in such a way that they can’t easily give it, most often by talking too much.

Feedback is effective when we truly listen by turning down the volume on the running dialogue in our own heads and focus on what the other person is saying. Our default belief must be that they are telling us something because they want to help us, and trust that we’ll be able to tell if they are out to help us or hurt us.

Most often we can tell the difference between helpful and hurtful feedback by the way the other person qualifies their statements. Sincere feedback is hard to give, and the other person is often as uncomfortable as we are in the situations. They may say things like, “I’m not sure this is accurate but I thought I would mention it”, or “Feel free to tell me this is incorrect, but I think….” Hurtful feedback is often unfiltered and indiscriminate. “You’re a jerk” or “Can’t you say anything nice!” are rarely helpful hints.

Ask for feedback and practice accepting what others’ offer. You may find that they care about you more than you realize – if you give them a chance to help you.

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