Feedback is a funny thing. It’s a necessary, even critical part of growth and yet if I came to you right now and said, “hey can I give you some feedback?” you would probably lock your core faster than an MMA fighter readying for the bell to ring. It’s because you’re never sure just how painful the next words out might be.  Feedback can be scary, honestly it can be downright devastating, but one thing I know for sure is that it isn’t fatal. And, without receiving, accepting and learning the lessons that feedback offers, our own performance and even our organization’s overall service experience can’t grow and improve.

A few years ago, I got an interesting piece of advice when it comes to feedback.  I used to teach month long training courses for people learning to teach English overseas. For an entire month, I’d pour out my soul to deliver the best course I possibly could. It was an intense 160-hour course.  At the end, participants would fill out feedback forms and then the wait was on. When the confetti cleared from their graduation party, I’d review the feedback.  And nothing except top tier excellent marks would do, obviously.

But one time I didn’t get all “excellents.”  There was a gal who just didn’t like me, and wrote a page’s worth of reasons why not.  It was a shock, and I went to my boss and will never forget his response. He said, “Sherry, when you read feedback like that, spend a good five minutes feeling defensive about it. Then go back and reread it and ask yourself what there is to be learned.”  What his remark gave me was the space to feel disappointed in the moment, with a clear next step. The real key for me is to not get mired down in disappointment or defensiveness or you miss the gift of the lesson and basically, you got your feelings hurt for nothing.

In our business, with feedback coming in many forms, we hardly have the luxury of taking the five minutes to feel bad, so we need to fast track to the learning.   What I’ve learned works best is to first immediately thank the person for coming to you.  I know it may feel like a personal attack, especially if you’re the owner and you pour your soul into the business every day, but put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Giving feedback isn’t always easy either. For a teammate, there can be some real fear involved in telling you something (or someone) in the facility isn’t up to snuff. So practice a little empathy for them because they’ve taken a risk in coming to you with an issue.

Next, understand that perception is reality.  It may not be your reality as you see it, but a guest telling you about rude staff or poor food quality is telling you their truth.  Then, distill out any emotion. Especially when feedback takes the form of an angry call or confrontation; sometimes you need to step back and understand that any emotion you’re getting from the other person is not about you personally.  It’s just not. It’s about how they feel in light of the situation. While you’re getting rid of emotion, you might have to let go of a bit of your own.  If you’re anything like me, you’re probably harder on yourself than anyone else is, so you’ll need to drop the “don’t you see how hard I’m trying?” response.  The point is, no one is doubting how hard you’re working, or how hard you or your staff are trying, they’re simply telling you that in the moment, it’s not enough for them. And that’s ok. Because you can take the opportunity to assess what is lacking in their experience and make the choice of what you may want to change going forward. You’ve got 100% of the power to do so.

Once you’ve decided your next step, if you can, communicate that back to the person offering the feedback. It’s a valuable gift you’ve been given, so you want to be sure that you pave the way to get more feedback in the future. If you ignore it, you’re setting yourself up for a fall later on when no one tries to help you anymore, or worse, they call you (or your business) apathetic.

And finally, once you get good at taking constructive criticism, seek it out often!  Why not? You’ll get great at adapting because you know how to apply what you’ve learned and in turn, you’ll become known for being approachable and that will only do great things for your organization’s culture.

What’s the most valuable piece of feedback you’ve ever been given? Tell us in the comments or on social media. 

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