Seeking feedback

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kimberly Hammonds
  • 436th Health Care Operations Squadron

It takes humility to seek feedback. It takes wisdom to understand it and appropriately act on it. -Stephen Covey

Concepts like transparency, feedback and vulnerability are common throughout leadership books, articles, discussions and courses. Although these concepts are all extremely important, they are meaningless without context. For instance, many will state that vulnerability is fundamental to leadership or complain that organizational processes are not transparent. Many may even claim they don’t receive feedback, a complaint that I hear much too often. However, we don’t regularly talk about how timing, audience, subject matter and/or receptiveness play a key role in adding value to feedback, transparency and vulnerability.

These concepts must be wielded deliberately and with maturity in order to bring value. Similarly, whether the feedback process is value-added is also dependent on multiple factors.

Everyone deserves feedback but even just as important to giving feedback is how the receiver receives and applies the feedback. Many will say that providing feedback is a leadership responsibility. I do not dispute that. Some will also say feedback is an entitlement. I do not necessarily disagree with that either. However, when we choose to live off entitlements, we are choosing to live a life of mediocrity. Although I believe there are some basic entitlements that we each hold, such as being treated with dignity and respect, the mentality to see feedback as something one is entitled to is passive, meaning that feedback should be both continuously sought after and given whether it is formal or informal. I choose to live with the mindset that I am not entitled to anything. This mindset leads to action and accountability. Although by standards I am entitled to feedback, if I don’t receive it, I seek it—and I seek it with an open mind and open heart. 

When I seek feedback, I consistently and continuously ask myself the following questions:

  • What is being said?
  • Is this person credible? 
  • Is this feedback actionable and in context?
  • If I don’t find it is value-added, what can I take from it to grow? What is not being said?
  • Am I creating a psychologically safe environment for the person delivering feedback?
  • After receiving feedback, does providing a reason for my shortcomings bring value or will it likely be perceived as an excuse?
  • Do I need to gain clarity on anything that was said?

Although leaders are ultimately responsible for providing feedback (and yes, there are lot of people in leadership positions who are not good at doing this), it is also an individual responsibility to seek out effective feedback. This feedback doesn’t have to only occur during an evaluation, when we traditionally expect to receive it, but can and should occur organically in any setting and at any time.

Although I am positive we have each experienced times in our lives where we didn’t receive effective feedback in its traditional form, this is often outside of our control. In these instances, we should focus on what is within our control.