If you want to change, invite feedback and really listen to it

Honest feedback is a gift that deserves our attention, time and vulnerability.

One of the risks you take when you invite feedback is that sometimes you get it.

Occasionally, a friend, colleague, boss or partner will have the courage to speak truth to you. He or she might change your perspective and open up possibilities for the way you work and live in the world.

It could, but that’s not a given because, before we can do anything with feedback, we have to hear it, really hear it. And this can be a problem for a variety of reasons.

Sometimes when we are given feedback from a surprising source at an unexpected time we have a hard time hearing what is being said. When caught in this kind of situation, we might respond with something that gets interpreted as a brush-off, a “thanks-but-I’ve-got-to-go” reaction.

There is something important about being able to prepare to be fully present to the other person, and when we can’t do that, people in our life get the message -- even if unintended -- that we don’t care about what they have to say. We need to set aside time on our calendars to listen to feedback.

Similarly, some of us have a difficult time slowing down long enough to assimilate what is actually being said to us.

We are so caught up in the swirl of deadlines, demands and other projects that when someone offers us constructive observation we miss it. Each time this happens, people become increasingly reluctant to offer input. We need to designate time on our calendars to process the feedback we hear.

At other times, it is not that we don’t hear what is being said, but it is that we are defensive from the start. We hear something that sounds the least bit like a critique and immediately move to protect ourselves. We find ourselves saying things like, “If you really understood the situation…” or “If you knew what I knew…” or “Well, you haven’t done my job,” or “No one else has said anything about that in my entire professional life.”

It’s a way of holding criticism -- constructive or otherwise -- at arm’s length. And as people see us respond that way, over time they stop offering feedback. We need to be open to feedback when it comes.

Though it doesn’t necessarily feel this way, honest feedback is always a gift that deserves our attention, our time and our vulnerability.

If we hear what they say, we may find ourselves and our practice of leadership changing for the better.