Difficult Conversations: Receiving Feedback

Posted on | September 9, 2009 | 1 Comment

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When someone approaches us wanting to give us feedback, whether it’s a boss or a friend, we often find ourselves getting nervous and maybe defensive. These reactions are normal—and they also get in the way of listening. Instead of getting involved in a number of difficult conversations, you can use a number of techniques to help your relax and better receive the intended message. Let’s focus on one: Looking for the other person’s intention.

Most people have positive intentions. They are not seeking to be harmful or hurtful. In fact, in a recent poll I did on a small group, I found that 39% of the people did not confront a difficult situation because they feared it would escalate or “blow up.” Another 34% were not sure they had the right words to provide difficult feedback. People are generally fearful about entering difficult conversations, and as a result, they are often uneasy and awkward. As a receiver of feedback, you can make the conversation much easier on yourself and on the person who is trying to communicate with you if you assume good intentions.

In my many years of conducting conflict mediation and group facilitation, I have never met anyone who had a malicious intent. Some people’s behavior may have looked difficult or inappropriate, but if I probed their intentions they all wanted to improve the situation or have better working conditions.

There is a saying, “We want to be judged on our intentions, but we judge others on their behavior.” That’s a great saying to keep in mind. How do you find someone’s intention? You can ask! When someone asks to speak to you, ask “what about?” Next, ask a simple question: What is your hope today? Then start listening. Reflect back what you hear and see how the person reacts.

It’s also important to notice any emotion the other person is carrying. Are they upset, angry, nervous? The emotion can be a clue as to what is happening for the other person. You can put them at ease by saying, “I see this is upsetting for you or hard for you.” Another approach you can try is to say, “Thank you for coming in to see me. I know it took courage to have this conversation.”

You may also give yourself the right to acknowledge your own state. If you are nervous, it’s alright to say that. Putting your own feelings on the table helps the other person understand the impact they are having on you in the moment. You, too, will notice that when you say it, the feelings will start to dissipate. The more relaxed you and the other person become the easier it will be for them to communicate—and for you to understand that their intent is to be helpful. You want to be able to hear the message and discuss it in an open, exploratory way.

As always, try it. You may like it. Even if you don’t, at least you’ll learn something. And please let me know how it goes.

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One Response to “Difficult Conversations: Receiving Feedback”

  1. Difficult Conversations: Receiving Information Part 2 :
    September 9th, 2009 @ 6:45 AM

    […] you may want to subscribe to my RSS feed. Thanks for visiting!As I wrote in my last post about difficult conversations, it’s normal to become nervous or even defensive when someone approaches us with feedback. These […]

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