Five Tips for Accelerating Growth through Feedback

The ability to think about yourself from the outside in, like a camera observing from a corner of the room, is a distinctly human capacity. But unless you are actually watching a recording of yourself, the ability to get an accurate outside perspective is limited.

You can’t even hear your own voice the way others do until you listen to a recording. That’s because the physiology of hearing works differently when the sound waves are coming from your vocal cords instead of an outside source. When you speak, the bones and soft tissue in your head enhance the lower frequency vibrations. Hearing your voice from a recording, which is how it sounds to others, is less full and higher pitched.

Since we don’t live in a reality television show with the ability to watch the replay of our daily behavior, the only way to really understand ourselves is through feedback. And if you want to get better at anything, you’ll need to reality test how you are doing now. That’s why feedback is a powerful accelerator for growth.

Here are five practical tips for using feedback to accelerate your growth.

1. Be proactive in asking for feedback, and if you’re a leader, insist on it.

The people around you already see your strengths and gaps. When you invite them to share feedback with you, it’s like opening a valve that prevents the build-up of pressure in your relationship. It also shapes the motivation for giving feedback based on your desire to receive it to help you grow.

Leaders face a unique challenge in asking for feedback, especially when the power-distance is large between the leader and followers. Sometimes leaders have to take steps to show the sincerity of their desire for feedback.

In 1981, David Petraeus was serving as a captain under Major General Jack Galvin. Galvin told Petraeus, “It’s my job to run the division, and it’s your job to critique me.” Captain Petraeus protested but was unwilling to disobey a direct order to “speak freely” including criticism of his commanding officer. Every month, he served under Galvin, Petraeus put a report card in his boss’s in-tray evaluating his performance. That relationship shaped Petraeus’s leadership and served him well when he became a General.

2. Prime the feedback pump with disclosure.

Even with permission, or a direct order, the people around you may be uncertain about what feedback to offer. You can prime the pump by acknowledging areas you want to grow and asking for help. A simple way to prime the feedback pump is through statements like this:

I’m currently working on _________ and I could use your help to ________.

One of my challenges is ___________ and I need advice on __________.

Statements like these clarify your awareness and desire for growth. They provide safe opportunities for the people around you to offer feedback in other areas beyond your specific request.

3. Beware of feedback triggers that could limit your ability to engage.

In their book, Thanks for the Feedback, Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen identified three categories of feedback triggers: truth, relationship, and identity.

The truth trigger is based on our perception of the validity of the content itself. If I don’t believe what you are saying is true, I’m not going to find it helpful. To overcome the truth trigger, start by asking, “What if this is true?”

The relationship trigger is connected to the source of the feedback. Relationships are complex. Sometimes our history with the person affects our ability to receive feedback. To overcome the relationship trigger, ask, “Who could help me reality test this feedback?”

The identity trigger is related to the target of the feedback — me. We are often tempted to fuse our ideas and performance with our identity as a person. This causes us to overreact when our behavior is questioned by others. To overcome the identity trigger, affirm, “I am not my ideas or performance, this feedback isn’t a rejection of me.”

4. Categorize feedback so you can analyze it.

Stone and Heen also identified three categories of feedback that form the acronym ACE – appreciation, coaching, and evaluation.

Appreciation is a way of saying, “I see you. You are valued.”

Coaching says, “I want to help you grow.”

Evaluation says, “Here’s how you are doing.”

Sometimes feedback includes all three categories at once. It can be helpful to listen to the feedback and file it mentally in the right category so you can reflect and respond properly. If it’s not clear, you may want to ask the person which category of feedback they are providing.

5. Turn feedback into feedforward actions.

Executive coach and author Marshall Goldsmith has documented that people respond better to information that will help them get better in the future than they do to negative commentary about the past. Listen to the feedback from others, and ask yourself, “If I were in a similar situation tomorrow, based on this input, what would I do differently.”

It has been said, the truth about you is that you don’t know the truth about you. And without feedback, you never will.

Five Tips for Accelerating Growth through Feedback