One of the most important career skills you’ll ever learn in Canada

Of all the skills that are essential to starting a great career in Canada, few are as important as knowing how to respond when someone gives you feedback on your work or behaviour.

Hearing criticism can be tough, even when it’s constructive and meant to help you improve. We all want to grow and develop our skills, but when we hear negative feedback, many of us feel hurt.

Feedback experts Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen describe this problem in their book, Thanks for the Feedback (2014), when they write:

“Receiving feedback sits at the intersection of these two needs—our drive to learn and our longing for acceptance. These needs run deep, and the tension between them is not going away.”

Stone and Heen tell us that openly receiving and working with feedback is a skill that we can all learn. But in order to do so, you’ll need to overcome a couple of common “triggers” that might prevent you from using feedback in a productive way.

  • Truth triggers – these are the parts of feedback you might reject because you think they are “Just plain wrong!” But it’s important to understand how the feedback could seem true from someone else’s point of view.
  • Relationship triggers – these triggers come up when we have a problem with the person who is giving us the feedback. They might be someone you feel competitive with, or maybe you don’t think they’re as smart or as qualified as you.
  • Identity triggers – these triggers can be some of the most upsetting because they often undermine or contradict your image of yourself, and they tend to occur when you receive criticism about something that you think is one of your greatest strengths.

The biggest problem with these triggers is that they can cause you to focus on everything except the lessons you might learn from the feedback you’ve heard. But it’s important to stay calm and remember some of the key principles that Joseph R. Folkman highlights in The Power of Feedback (2006):

  • Try to think about why someone would give you that feedback.
  • Remember that people give feedback that they believe is true – whether or not this is actually the case.  
  • When it comes to improving yourself, it is more important to build on strengths than to eliminate weaknesses.
  • Changing your behaviour often requires you to change your core beliefs and accept that you need to change.

So why is it so important to take feedback seriously? The reason is because receiving feedback is an important and sought-after skill. In his book, There Is Life After College (2016), Jeff Selingo looks at an analysis of job postings and finds that employers value the following traits more than any others when looking for new employees:

  • humility (or humbleness)
  • curiosity
  • creativity
  • ‘grit’ (or resilience)

Selingo explains that the reason employers value these skills so highly is because they are having trouble finding them in new graduates. Here’s how all four of these skills are necessary when it comes to improving yourself through feedback:

  • Humility: To receive feedback well, you must be open to the idea that you are not perfect, and that you are able to benefit from the advice and feedback of others.
  • Curiosity: You must also be interested in learning about how you can improve yourself, your knowledge, and your behaviours.
  • Creativity: To apply feedback, you need to creatively adapt and change yourself to apply the feedback you receive.
  • Grit: This means mental toughness. You must be willing to overcome the painful feelings that negative feedback can sometimes cause. You need to allow feedback to become a normal part of your life and learn to see it as a valuable opportunity for improvement.

Finally, it’s important to remember that receiving feedback is all about balance. Once you get past the temptation to reject all negative feedback, you’ll need to make sure that you don’t start accepting all negative feedback as true. The fact is that sometimes people will give you feedback that is wrong, which means that you need to develop the ability to see which parts of feedback are useful, and then start applying them in order to improve and grow.

It might not be easy, but learning to receive feedback can help you improve in almost every area of your life. One of the most important things you can do, starting today, is learn to see feedback as an opportunity instead of a threat. If you see feedback this way, you will start to ask people for more of it until you have an appetite for feedback that other people will respect, because it will show them that you are committed to learning and self-improvement. If you can do that, you are already well on your way to developing one of the most important skills for personal and professional success.


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