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The Secrets to a Successful Feedback Discussion

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When you think of feedback conversations, whether a performance review or something less formal, think of them as opportunities—to define your goals, to discover new stretch assignments, and overall, to get a clear understanding of how you can grow and develop your skill sets.

Below, David Landman, Ph.D., Head of Talent Assessment at Goldman Sachs and a former professor in psychology, joined in a conversation with Levo to talk through how you can prepare for feedback discussions, the best ways to respond to surprising or negative feedback, and how to create next steps with your boss to make sure that you’re continuing to make progress.

[Related: The Power of Giving Positive Feedback]

Levo: How should one think about feedback discussions overall?

David Landman: Whether you are in an organization that encourages feedback on an ongoing basis throughout the year, or a more traditional approach of feedback as an annual event, you should look at feedback discussions as an opportunity to understand how you can improve your performance and work contributions.

Going into your feedback conversation, what should you have prepared and what (if anything) should you bring with you?

DL: It’s certainly worth sitting down and reviewing your self-assessment if you’ve completed one. If you don’t have one you should be able to access a document describing the expectations of somebody at your level. In addition to that, really think about your goals and your accomplishments, as well as your perspective as far as your strengths and development needs.

What’s the best way to respond to criticism, both in terms of body language and verbally?

DL: If you frame your mindset as: this is an opportunity to hear honest feedback as to things that you can focus on to develop and become a stronger employee, then you really should want to hear criticism, or constructive feedback, and be as open as possible to hearing that feedback. Particularly for those of us who are not producing an actual product, perception is reality, so whether or not you agree with the feedback, it actually doesn’t matter. What matters is what your manager and other people are perceiving. If you think you’re a strong communicator, yet others are not receiving your communication that way, I think it’s really important to be open-minded to hearing why your manager thinks that, and then what do they suggest to improve. But the purpose of a feedback discussion is not for you to then argue with your manager as to your perspective versus theirs. It’s super critical to be open-minded, not to be defensive, not to blame others, and really hear the feedback and take notes.

[Related: 5 Questions to Ask When You’re Looking for Feedback]

So, is it ever OK to defend yourself?

DL: I think it’s totally appropriate to explain your point of view to your manager, but I would do it with the mentality not of defending yourself and instead of being transparent and open about your perception of the situation.

In that scenario, I think it’s appropriate to say, “This was surprising. I wasn’t expecting to hear that. Here is my perspective, can you tell me how you would have approached the situation differently so I can learn to develop that skill set?” It needs to be positive and forward-looking, not defensive and looking back.

Smart. Are there a few things you should make sure to do before you leave the discussion?

DL: Absolutely. At the end of the discussion, it’s really important to go back through your notes and summarize your key takeaways with your manager to make sure you’re both on the same page. I also think people should express their commitment to developing and to coming up with a plan to address some of the feedback—even scheduling follow-up meetings where you can get an update on your progress.

It’s also an opportunity to ask for whatever support you need, so a review is a good time to bring up the things like, I want to take X course, or, I need to work on my presentation skills but I need your help in giving me the opportunities to present.

And then asking the manager for advice in broad ways such as, Are there other people who are really good at this that I should speak to? Are there people that I should ask to mentor me? Are there courses either inside the company or outside that you think would help?

[Related: Why You Should Join Levo’s 31-Day March Management Challenge]

OK, lastly, name one thing you can do at the end of a feedback discussion to leave a good impression.

DL: I have to say two things. One, summarize what you heard from the conversation to make sure that you and your manager are on the same page, as well as having a discussion about next steps. The second thing would be to thank them. Quality feedback takes a lot of time—both when it’s positive and not—so just thanking your manager really goes a long way.

Photo: Getty Images

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