Ah, feedback! We can’t live without it and yet many of us do. When it comes to constructive criticism, it’s hard to say what we hate most: giving it or receiving it. Most of us would rather (fill in your own particular horror) than give or receive unfavorable comments about behavior.
Here’s why feedback is so hard. When you tell someone his or her performance is not up to par, no matter how well you’ve crafted your message, the receiver hears only this:
Your baby is ugly!
Oweee. That really hurts.
When we receive that kind of feedback, weird things happen to us. We get all prickly. We squirm. We blush. We make excuses. We deflect. We argue. We cry. We do almost anything to get out of hearing it.
And knowing how hard it is to receive it, it’s only natural that we avoid giving it. We do so at our peril however, for feedback can be a powerful tool for growth and development—for us and for others.
Think about the last time you received constructive criticism at work. Think about how you felt when someone called your baby ugly. If you’re like most people, you went through various stages of thoughts and emotions.
SARAH is an acronym that describes those stages. Knowing how you respond to such criticism (and forgiving yourself when you do), can help you come out the other side with your dignity intact and a chance to improve your performance.
Here are the five stages of SARAH:
S – Surprise/Shock. “Really!? You’ve got to be kidding! Are you talking to me?” This kind of feedback may surprise or even shock you. Recognize that this as a normal human emotion, one that will pass in time. Don’t respond in the moment, just try to listen to what the person is saying.
A – Anger. “How dare you say that to me!” Surprise and shock may be replaced by anger. If the feedback came anonymously, you may demand to know who said it. Once again, this is a natural emotion. Hold back in responding until the anger subsides.
R – Rationalization/Rejection. “No wonder he thinks I can’t run a good meeting. He wouldn’t know an agenda if it hit him in the face. Besides, why am I getting punished? I’m only doing this because no one else will.” You may reject the remarks out of hand or try to rationalize them in some way. You may make excuses or blame other people. Your statements may seem logical to you, but they really aren’t. Forgive yourself. Know that this is your way of trying to regain some control.
A – Acceptance. “Well, maybe I do need to keep better track of time and not let people dominate the discussion.” You can now look at the feedback with a degree of objectivity, take what’s valuable to you in terms of your own growth and development, and disregard the rest. It’s your choice.
H – Help/Hope. “I actually like chairing these sessions. I’m going to ask if I can take a course on meeting management.” That’s a big first step toward learning how to accept feedback in the way your boss intended—as a way to boost your performance.
When you get really good at receiving feedback, you can seek it from your boss, your peers, and even your staff. It’s one of the fastest ways toward a growth spurt!
Now that you’ve got some guidelines for receiving feedback, my next post deals with how to give it. (Gulp!)
Until next time . . .