People who are not open to feedback
One of the most tragic personal flaws I see is people who are not open to the feedback others are giving to them.
- Individuals who act defensively to a perceived criticism.
- People who think the problem is always with others, never with themselves
- Those who refuse to change, even though what they are doing is not working
If you live or work with someone like this, it can be extremely frustrating. But we can’t become too self-righteous here - we have all been guilty of the above, at times.
Being open to feedback certainly has considerable benefits. It can give us an awareness of blind spots, help us to learn, and become better at what we do. Being receptive can also provide the opportunity to mend relationships or take other rectifying actions.
This is one of the things that high-achievers tend to be good at - constantly adjusting their approach based on the feedback being given through others’ words and behaviours, as well as the extent to which goals are being achieved.
But what can we do to help someone we live or work with become more open to feedback? Here are some ideas:
Develop a more positive relationship: The general rule of thumb is that people tend to be more open to feedback from those with whom they have a good relationship.
However, the reality is that we often need to give feedback to those with whom we have a difficult or distant relationship. In such cases, easing the tension or closing the distance is a good place to start, perhaps small steps, over time.
Relationships are a bit like emotional bank accounts. The more deposits we can make by listening to them, supporting them, thanking them, teasing them, having morning tea with them – the better they will handle any challenges (withdrawals) that come in their relationship with us, including any constructive feedback we may be giving.
The research suggests that openness to feedback is encouraged when positive interactions outweigh challenging interactions by a factor of 5 to 1.
In addition, as we develop a better relationship with other people, this puts us in a better position to figure out how they work and to appreciate stressors that are contributing to that person’s performance or defensiveness.
Be specific: Here we need to be avoiding labels such as disrespectful, under-performing, or inconsiderate. People don’t like being labeled as the problem. Such labels are also very non-specific and don’t give the person anything they can work with.
It is much easier to come up with labels, of course. They come from an emotional place that doesn’t require any thinking. However, we don’t want to let our emotions dictate our decisions. Emotions are a good guide that something needs to change. But they are a very bad master.
The focus instead needs to be on specific behaviours that concern you or behaviours you would like to see. (One of these might be openness to the feedback you are giving). Here you can let people know what you appreciate or would find helpful. There doesn’t need to be any blame.
Respond well to any defensiveness: There is no one right way to respond well. Your responses need to be determined by what is working or not working for the situation.
Kind responses include demonstrating understanding for how they are seeing things, agreeing where you can, apologising for how you may have come across, reassuring them of your intentions, before offering what you can for the future.
More firm responses include ignoring any defensiveness or personal attacks, keeping the focus on the issue at hand, and being very clear about the behaviour you are wanting to see. If you are feeling brave, you might even comment that the way they are responding is an example of the behaviour that concerns you.
Sometimes, people need time to settle and think about what has been said to them. So, it is totally fine to suggest a break so you can both think about some possible solutions and to reconnect at a later time.
Help them see the need for change: Here you are exploring the consequences if there is no change – follow up meetings, ongoing tensions, issues not being resolved, the situation perhaps escalating to a higher level (though let them know if this is not your preference).
Of course, you can also explore the benefits for them (as well as for others) if there is change, such as being able to work things out and both being on the same page for the future.
Set the example: Someone needs to be the adult here. It may as well be you.
If you can be open to feedback or criticism they have for you, responding non-defensively, agreeing where you can, this makes it harder for them to not be open to what you have to say.
Some very smart individuals, before giving constructive feedback, ask for feedback themselves by saying, ‘How am I going’ or ‘What can I do to be more on track for you?’
They know that if they can model being non-defensive themselves, this puts them in a much stronger position to then say, ‘There are also a couple of things I would find helpful from you …’