Often, feedback is a gift. Here’s how to receive it gracefully.
We all benefit from feedback. The absence of it leaves us unsure—guessing and making assumptions about how we are seen by our colleagues and whether we are meeting their expectations. Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, have demanded an increase in the frequency of their feedback. No longer do the days of yearly or bi-yearly reviews hold sufficient. The demand is project-based, weekly, monthly, quarterly. Feedback is central to every firm.
But let’s be honest—most people don’t like to receive critical feedback at work. It can be hurtful to hear that, given all your hard work, you have not performed as well as you had hoped. But as uncomfortable as it may be, shining light on your blind spots and assessing your areas of improvement will always make you a better lawyer. Here’s how you can take that constructive criticism and make it work for you.
Understand the intention behind it
It’s easier said than done. Research shows that employees are more likely to distance themselves from managers that give critical feedback. Even though your first instinct might be to bristle, remember that your supervisor isn’t giving you this feedback because they hate you or think you’re terrible at your job. If you were that bad at your job, they wouldn’t waste time addressing it in detail. Even the most stern, brusque partner does not necessarily have malevolent intentions in this regard.
If you feel yourself getting defensive, it may be your ego talking. Take a deep breath and understand that they are invested in your success and want you to be aware of any potential problems so that you can correct them. Without having these conversations, you would be unaware, the problem would be left unaddressed, and you would be doomed to repeat it.
Listen carefully, ask questions, and say thank you
The worst possible way you could react to feedback is to give the impression that you are not open to or don’t care about what you’re hearing. Sure there are managers out there giving bad feedback, but you don’t have to react in the moment. Make sure you’re actively listening (go ahead and take notes if you need to), and be sure to ask questions.
One simple piece of advice is to receive feedback “in a way that you work as hard at finding how it could be true as you do at finding out how it isn’t true.” - Cy Wakeman, leadership coach and New York Times best-selling author of the book No Ego
She even goes as far as saying write down three ways in which the feedback is true, so you can properly reflect.
Most importantly, say thank you—again, they’re trying to help you improve, and it’s polite to let them know how much you appreciate that.
Follow up and check in on your progress
Once you’ve received the feedback, you may understand immediately why it was given or you may need to give yourself time to work on it or encounter the issue again and handle it differently. When this happens, it’s important to communicate that you recognized the problem yourself, understand what your manager meant, and explain how you’re attacking the problem. Be specific about what you’ve changed and ask targeted questions about how you can still improve upon your performance. Taking the feedback seriously, addressing it, and providing communication of progress shows managers that the time taken to give that feedback was well worth the investment.