In my last blog post, A Traveller’s Guide to Feedback, I focused on some suggestions for giving feedback. But I started thinking about how both sides of feedback need to be considered. So here are a few suggestions that may be helpful when responding to feedback:
- This may sound simplistic, but the first step is to take a few deep, calming breaths.
- Initially remain quiet. Rather than responding with a quick comeback, focus on listening with open ears and hearts. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13) The goal is to understand, and determine the validity of, the feedback.
- Ask questions to help ensure clarity around the feedback before starting to form a response.
- To further assure we have an accurate understanding of the feedback, it helps to briefly summarize what we think has been shared. This way, the other person can either confirm we have understood correctly or they can rectify any misunderstanding.
- Generally our initial response tends to be feelings of hurt, anger and defensiveness. Out of self-preservation we can launch into counterattacks, blaming others or making excuses. Sometimes we react like this because of how and where the feedback is delivered. In these types of situations it is advisable to set some boundaries about where the conversation should take place and how we would prefer they speak to us.
- Regardless of how others behave we can’t blame them for how we feel or respond. Always be responsible for your own feelings and behaviour. We are called to, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with one another making allowances for other’s faults because of your love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
- While we may prefer to blame others for how they “make” us feel and for how we respond, they are actually not responsible. What we feel has less to do with external things, such as what others say to us, and more to do with what is going on inside us. Our own negative self- talk, the disparaging statements that flash through our minds is what stirs up our hurt and anger. Negative self-talk are thoughts like, “Who do they think they are telling me this stuff?” or “Here we go again, I am such a failure. I can never do anything right.” or “They think it’s all my fault.” This toxic self-talk causes us to feel and and respond negatively. Conversely, in order to stay calm and respectful our self-talk needs to shift into affirming statements.
- Our internal, self-talk must be more constructive and focus on things like the courage it took them to give us feedback or the fact they care enough to share hard truths. Or we could focus on the transformative power of feedback – seeing it as an opportunity for self-awareness, for resolving a problem, or reaching a mutual understanding. (Proverbs 27:17) When we “think about such things” it allows us to be remain more receptive, logical and calm. (Philippians 4:8-9) As a result, our feelings and responses will be more constructive.
- If we sift through most feedback, we will generally find some small kernel or nugget of truth. So even though the feedback may not ring completely true – because we seldom do things “every time”, “all the time” or “never” – it is likely true at least “some of” the time. It is our responsibility to help discern any part of the feedback that is true so that we can put off that sin and put on the “wardrobe God has picked out for us: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. . . And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.” (Colossians 3:12-14, The Message)
- Once we have identified any part of the feedback as being accurate, we need to verbally accept responsibility for it.
- And then for self-growth, it is essential to repent of that inappropriate behaviour and to commit to engaging in more appropriate behaviour in the future. (James 5:16; Proverbs 28:13)
- Keeping our voice calm and steady is key. “A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” (Proverbs 15:1)
- To some degree or another, others can also play a negative part in any situation. And while we may want to divert attention away from us, by focusing on their contribution, it is wise to wait until after their initial feedback has been fully addressed.
- We can be caught off guard when someone approaches us with feedback. So if we need more time to reflect upon the feedback it is reasonable to request some time before responding.
- There are occasions where there is no truth or substance to the feedback. If the issue remains unresolved and they choose to hold onto their perspective, it is best to arrive at a respectful “we agree to disagree”. The key is to act honourably and attempt to live in peace with everyone, even when we disagree on an issue. (Romans 12:17-18; Titus 3:10)
The key with feedback is to remember that feedback itself is not the problem. Rather it is our poor delivery and negative responses that create problems around feedback. When truth is shared in love and grace it has transformative power by creating awareness, increasing wisdom, stimulating self-growth, and deepening our relationships .