Years ago, I met two very wise individuals. They taught me a lesson that literally ?changed my life?. That lesson was that feedback is information; and that when people give you feedback they are really telling you about themselves. Let me explain.
As a workshop facilitator with audiences filled with supervisors, managers, and organizational leaders on a regular basis, the topic of feedback comes up regularly. When my audiences are not filled with leaders, they are filled with people who work for leaders?and the topic of feedback comes up regularly in these sessions too! Everyone seems to want it, and seems to see great benefits in giving and receiving it, and yet not many of us are engaging in it! I think a big part of the reason for this is a lack of understanding and appreciation that feedback is just information ? it is not ?truth?.
When someone gives you feedback, they are really telling you about their view of the world ? their expectations, their experience, their likes and dislikes. It is just information for you and does not mean that it IS reality ? it?s just their reality (in that moment, in that situation).
So, if John says ?you are great!?, that is nice for you to hear, but it does not mean that you ARE great?it just means that John thought that something you did or said or did not do or say, was ?great? as he defines it. Just like if Sam said ?you are rude?, it just means that Sam thought something you did or said or did not do or say, was ?rude? as she defines it. It does not mean that you ARE rude.
When you think of feedback as just information, you can be curious about the information you get and use all feedback as a learning opportunity ? an opportunity to learn how others around you view the world, including how they interpret your behaviour. So, you can respond with something like ?Thank you, John. Now help me understand what I did or said that was ?great? to you!? or ?Thank you, Sam. I am curious about what I did or said or didn?t do or say that was ?rude? to you.?
I am reminded of a lovely quotation by Gene Early, ?Feedback is not absolute truth, but it is truth to the person delivering it.?