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3 Things Rock Stars Can Teach Us About Accepting Feedback

By Elle Morgan on July 20, 2016

The life of a musician is riddled with all breeds of feedback — from positive and constructive to downright negative. While most of us aren't receiving feedback beneath the same limelight in our professional careers, it also comes in all shapes during our day-to-day interactions. How we respond to it can make all the difference.

Forty-six percent of newly hired employees will fail within the first 18 months, according to a study conducted by the global leadership and training research company, Leadership IQ. Of those that fail, 26 percent will fail because they’re unable to accept feedback.

Regardless of how important we know feedback is to our growth, it can be difficult to absorb while dodging our own egos, preconceived notions, and personal opinions.

Luckily, we can turn to the stars for guidance! Here are three rock star tips to help you get the most out of feedback:

2. “Good” isn't good enough

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Ever ask for feedback and the short response is, “everything is good”? While that might feel nice, you’re left without any guidance to support growth. In those scenarios, it’s best to ask the person giving you feedback for specifics on areas for improvement. Understand what they mean by “good.”

An effective approach is to dive into open-ended questions that spark helpful clarification. Make it clear that you want concrete examples of what you could do differently.

Let’s walk through a scenario where this could come in handy. Jane is a rising marketing star at a small tech startup. Jane’s manager sits her down for their weekly one-on-one meeting. Jane describes her most recent projects and asks for feedback.

Her manager responds simply with, “that all sounds great and everything looks good!” Jane loves the compliment but recognizes that this doesn’t help her see where she could be improving. She asks a follow-up question, “I’m glad you liked my work! What specifically did you like and, if given this project again, what could I do better next time?”

By searching for shortcomings, Jane is able to find opportunities where she can truly excel to the next level. Having a genuine sense of curiosity and inquisitiveness is a great method to uncovering the feedback you need.

On the topic of self-improvement, Beyoncé Knowles is quoted saying, “if everything was perfect, you would never learn and you would never grow.”  

Taking in feedback means searching for imperfections to improve upon. If you are going to receive feedback, and grow from it, you must dig deeply to find what’s most helpful for your personal development.

2. Don’t respond right away

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Humans listen at a rate of 125 to 250 words per minute, but our brains are thinking at 1000 to 3000 words per minute. When receiving feedback, our minds are racing to come up with a response or rebuttal to what’s being said, before we’ve even allowed ourselves to listen to it.

When feedback is negative, unavoidable emotions naturally ignite within us. According to Professor Clifford Nass, co-author of The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships, “the brain handles positive and negative information in different hemispheres. Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones.”

Consequently, feedback, especially critical feedback, requires more time to absorb. In the heat of the moment, staying calm and attentively listening will allow the brain to digest what’s being said . You can even take notes to read and reflect upon in more depth later.

Let’s use our friend Jane again as an example. Jane and her manager meet to review her performance over the last week. Her manager says, “I appreciate the work you did on last week’s presentation. However, I know that you could’ve done a better job.” Her manager goes on to recommend an entirely new process for completing presentations going forward.

Jane’s first emotions are frustration and agitation. She pauses a moment, trying to block out the anger and remain calm. She responds, “I hear what you’re saying and appreciate the feedback. Let me take a day to think about your suggestion. Can we circle back tomorrow?”

Jane has now given herself the opportunity to absorb what’s been said and time to prepare the best response possible.

Jimi Hendrix said, “knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” There’s an impulse to react right away based on your first, often defensive, emotions. But, denying that instinct, will give you time to slow down, reflect, and respond with a clear mind.

3. When being wrong is right

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Why is it so hard to admit when we’re wrong? It may not entirely be our fault. There are very real, cognitive reasons for our inability to accept failure. Social psychologist, Elliot Aronson, co-author of the book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me), says, “our brains believe that we’re always doing “the right thing” even in the face of sometimes overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”

Sure, the first reaction to being wrong might be accompanied by a swift blow to your ego and initial remorse, but it’s what you do after being wrong that matters most. If you’re able to view mistakes as opportunities for growth, they’ll become one of your greatest assets.

Let’s hear a scenario from Jane one last time. With some deliberation, Jane realizes that she really did make a mistake in the way that she prepared last week’s presentation.

After a few moments of regret, and a little embarrassment, she shifted her mind to look for the positives. Jane sat down with her manager and said, “I realize now that I could have done this differently. I’m so glad this was brought to my attention. It would have grown into a much larger mistake down the road if you hadn’t told me.”

It will never be easy to admit being wrong. What’s controllable is how we accept failure and our ability to pivot a misstep into a learning opportunity.

John Lennon said, “a mistake is only an error. It becomes a mistake when you fail to correct it.” We all have areas for improvement and moments of weakness. Having the self-awareness and emotional maturity to accept our imperfections and grow from them will not only boost productivity, but your general happiness as well.

In conclusion

Meaningful feedback is a springboard for change. By learning to view feedback as something that you did and not who you are, advice and critiques will feel less threatening.

Billy Joel said, “we’re only human, we’re supposed to make mistakes!” To get the most out of your feedback, try taking it like a rock star. Question to find the value, clear your mind to listen and put your fear of failure to the side.

Are you ready to take the next step toward building a great culture?

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Written by Elle Morgan

Elle Morgan

Elle Morgan works at Small Improvements, where she guides their initiative to support the development of employees through meaningful and ongoing feedback. Her passions lie in helping businesses realize human potential and sharing stories that delight, engage, impact and inform.