Six Keys to Life-Changing Feedback

Six Keys to Life-Changing Feedback

Even though it is not always easy, when you offer and receive feedback with genuine intent, it can be a life-changing gift.

Three months into one of my first executive roles, I heard these words come out of my boss’s mouth:

        “John, I’d like to give you some feedback in our next one-on-one.”

         “Sure, sounds great!” I lied through my teeth.

Up to that point in my finance career, I figured an offer for feedback meant a trip to the woodshed. The mere mention of feedback was more likely to wrench my stomach with anxiety than cue visions of imminent success. Maybe you have felt that way yourself a time or two.

Over my 20+ years as a CFO at Fortune 100 companies, and in my work coaching executive leaders, I have found that many people do feel that way. They get very apprehensive whenever someone offers to give them feedback, since in their experience, it often translates to “I’m about to give you a good swift kick in the pants!”  

No wonder so many capable and high-performing business people hate the thought of getting feedback.

Believe it or not, the idea of giving feedback can be just as unpleasant for those same executives. This is because many assume that giving feedback is the same as reprimanding – and they simply don’t like getting after people. Or they feel that giving feedback is out-and-out impolite,

But when given clearly, compassionately and constructively, feedback is a potentially life-changing gift. It can truly be one of the kindest things one person can do for another. By the same token, withholding feedback can be inadvertently malicious, because it may rob someone of a significant opportunity for growth and learning. 

One of the most gratifying things I do in my work with senior executives is helping them open their hearts to the gift of feedback – both giving and receiving it.  Over the years, I’ve developed Six Keys to Life-Changing Feedback. Here they are:

Three Keys to Giving Life-Changing Feedback

1) Be sure that your heart is in the right place.

When your listeners trust that you have their best interests at heart, they will be more likely to take your advice, instead of just smiling and nodding. Check your motives for giving feedback and make sure that your real intent is to help the other person learn and grow, not just to admonish them. If you genuinely care about their development, they will sense it in your voice and demeanor. If you are not, they will sense that too.

2) Be specific.

Few things are more frustrating than vague or euphemistic feedback. Rather than say, “You need to be more diplomatic,” give clear-cut examples that illustrate when your listener was tactless, and suggest specific improvements to behaviors or wording.

 3) Be timely.

Don’t save up your feedback for performance appraisal time or some other formal moment – it will just get stale. Most people appreciate periodic, ongoing feedback so they can make course corrections in real time and avoid repeating mistakes. Likewise, prompt feedback demonstrates how much you care, as if to say, “Because I’m invested in your growth, I want to help you as soon as possible.”  

Three Keys to Receiving Life-Changing Feedback

1) Keep an open heart.

It may seem difficult at the time, but try to listen for positive intent and generously give the benefit of the doubt to the other person. Try to step into their truth, even (and especially) if it feels a little hard to swallow. Above all, don’t get defensive, and be sure to thank them for their insights and advice graciously.

2) Verify what you heard.

Restate the feedback in your words to the other person. Check to make sure that your understanding agrees with theirs. This has two benefits. First, they will know that you were paying attention, ideally with the intent of making changes. Second, by confirming the message, you avoid working on the wrong things, only to frustrate both of you.

3) Commit to specific course correction.

Whenever possible, commit on the spot to make specific improvements that align with the feedback. Be clear about how you will make your improvements, and don’t make vague half-promises just to get the other person off your back.

Check your gut: are you truly committed to change? Can you deliver? Don’t make commitments that you can’t or won’t keep. If you feel that you can’t commit to specific improvements right then, commit to returning with a plan soon. Whatever promises you make, keep them.

The feedback I received from my new boss years ago was invaluable because of how he delivered it. He truly wanted to help me, he was specific about the improvements he wanted to see, and he provided his feedback in real time.  Since he consistently repeated this approach, I learned to trust his feedback, and I believed that he valued me.  What’s more, because I knew that he cared about my success, I was not only excited about implementing his suggestions, but I was eager to learn even more from him. 

Start Reaping the Benefits of Life-Changing Feedback Today

With the Six Keys to Life-Changing Feedback in mind, I’d like to challenge you to put them into action.

The challenge is twofold. First, think of someone whose growth you genuinely care about – someone who could benefit from your insights – and using the Three Keys to Giving Life-Changing Feedback, offer to help them grow. Second, ponder any feedback that you’ve received but brushed aside. Reconsider how to apply it to your life, check for understanding and alignment with the giver, then let them know exactly what you plan to do with their advice.

Even though it is not always easy to hear or to give, when you offer and receive feedback with genuine intent, it can be a gift that is both priceless and enduring.  

And when feedback lives in that selfless space, its power is virtually unlimited.

Sign Up For My Articles

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form

Related Posts

Three Reasons You’re Not Getting Promoted (And How To Fix Them)

Conquer your career derailers and get back on track.

Read More

How Overloaded Executives Can Make Time for What Matters Most

The price of cutting ourselves short can be very high, but the good news is that we don’t have to live that way forever, even if that’s our usual habit.

Read More

What to Do When Your Boss is the Devil Himself

Although it might be natural to want to get away from a nasty boss, in my experience the best course of action is something very different.

Read More

What Craig the IT Guy Taught Me About Life, Death, and Work-Life Balance

Virtually all my clients say that they want improved work-life balance. Here are four tips from the WW work-life balance initiative I led at Microsoft.

Read More

Values Are The Key to Making Tough Choices

I find that many of my clients figuratively navigate dangerous terrain all the time. In these situations, our values serve as our best compass.

Read More

How Top Execs Solve Their Toughest Leadership Challenges

Leaders want counsel from someone who understands where they’re coming from, and who has the skill to push them to create real shift in their thinking.

Read More

The One Simple Phrase That Ensures You Get the Results You Expect

Leaders don't always get the results they expect, but here's how to do it through a simple phrase.

Read More

The Four Keys to Earning Your Team’s Trust

Some leaders try to exert their influence through their authority, but great leaders create true followership by continually earning their people’s trust.

Read More

The True Meaning of Courage Isn’t What You Think

True courage is not the absence of fear, a mindset, or even an emotion. It's a principle of action.

Read More

Four Simple Ways to Awaken Your Focus and Concentration at Work

Here are four ways to increase your leadership effectiveness at work by cultivating the skill of consciousness.

Read More

You're Not an Imposter

If you’re struggling with self-doubt, the first step is to tame your monkey mind.

Read More

What to Do When a Rising Star's Team Can't Stand Him

To learn to play well with others, this corporate tyrant had to gain a “view from the balcony.”

Read More

Three Simple Steps for Making the Right Call Under Fire

To know how to respond in high-stress situations, you've got to start by getting into flow – just like a professional athlete.

Read More

Knowledge Is Good – But It’s the Enemy of Great

How openness to being wrong serves as a force multiplier for the smartest leaders

Read More

To Become More Successful, Open Your Eyes to True Success

There are levels of winning beyond just winning.

Read More

Leadership Doesn’t Happen by Accident—It’s a Choice

The difference between being a leader and being a victim starts with mindset.

Read More

How A ‘Work Persona’ Undercuts Your Long-Term Success

Your genuine self is more effective than your fake self. Learning to dial into your talents and values is the surest way to speed up your career growth.

Read More

How My Personality Almost Wrecked My Career (And How I Fixed It)

The behaviors that limit us are often rooted in the same traits that've made us successful.

Read More

Authenticity at Work: Is There Such a Thing as “Too Real?”

Choosing authenticity at work can be a risky move. Here’s how to know when it’s right.

Read More

What I Learned From (Almost) Getting Fired As CFO Of Microsoft North America

Yesterday’s recipe for success isn’t enough to master today’s challenges.

Read More

How My Near-Death Experience Sparked The Biggest Career Change Of My Life

When life hangs by a thread, we realize what really matters most.

Read More

Services

Executive Coaching

Team Coaching

John assesses teams through qualitative and quantitative measures, then helps you build the path to high performance.

Build your Team
Executive Coaching

Executive Coaching

John's coaching draws on more than 25 years in senior leadership roles at Microsoft, Novartis, and Kodak.

Maximize Your Potential
Leadership Assessments

Leadership Assessments

As a Certified Practitioner of the Leadership Circle, John utilizes best-in-class tools to assess and develop you and your team.

Learn More