Whatchu Talkin’ ‘Bout Willis? Part 2


In this second installment of our two-part blog series “Whatch Talkin’ ‘Bout Willis?”, we discuss 7 ways to receive feedback. This topic complements the first and will be helpful to you, professionally and maybe even personally too! “Whatchu Talkin’ “Bout Willis?” or

How to Effectively Receive Feedback

Welcome to part 2 of a series on the topic of how to effectively give and receive feedback. In our last installment, we discussed 7 components of effectively giving feedback as a peer recovery specialist. Using the glorious lens of the 80’s TV hit show Diff’rent Strokes, we saw that Arnold, played by Gary Coleman, had a favorite reactive phrase whenever his brother Willis said something demeaning or vague. That phrase was, say it with me now, “Whatchu Talkin’ ‘Bout Willis?” If you have not read the first blog, these underlined blue words will probably take you there, so take the hint. I kid. Sorta. I’m trying to improve my readership numbers. Quarterly reports. You know how it goes. Wait, my boss reads this. Never mind. Let’s continue!

So, here’s the deal. Besides the occasional masochist, most people do not like receiving ‘feedback’. Let’s be honest. Feedback usually means you failed. It includes popular phrases like ‘best practices’, ‘improved customer service’, and ‘quality is job #1’ (sorry Ford). Other feedback includes fun phrases like ‘this is not a good fit’ or ‘Hi, I’m John from Security, I am here to escort you out of the building.” Between the two, take the first. Always take the first.

But, that’s the whole point, the first doesn’t feel good either. And so, let’s get down to brass tacks. It’s not the feedback that we don’t like, rather, it is usually the emotional and/or cognitive dissonance it evokes within. So, what do you do when you receive that ‘effective feedback’. Nothing! It’ll be effective. End of blog. Not yet! What about receiving ineffective feedback? THAT’S the feedback most of us fear.

The truth is if we want to excel we have to be willing to learn about ourselves which includes discovering, for the first time, or even rediscovering, the ways in which we miss the mark at home, school, work, hobbies, and relationships. The hardest part is not taking feedback personally. I know, I write a blog every week. Do you know how hard it is to find a new way to say, “I know” when your boss delivers yet another stellar review of your incredible blog writing skills? Me either. That was a linguistic play on words for your entertainment, not an effort to achieve termination of blog writing through work release. Just to be clear.

Ok, I’m done. I’m getting serious about having fun! Here’s what you’ve been waiting for:

7 Components of effectively giving feedback:

  1. Ask for feedback. If you take the initiative utilizing a growth mindset, you are more likely to welcome feedback that highlights needed areas of improvement directly because you want to improve and such feedback can help. When you see feedback as a real opportunity to learn more about your skills, you are more apt to seek it, accept it and take the suggestive corrective action(s).
  2. Steady yourself for the good, the bad, and the ugly. Before a ‘planned’ feedback session, because let’s face it, one can only be so prepared for an unplanned feedback session that starts with, ‘hey-can-I-talk-to-you-for-just-a-second’, prepare yourself by taking a few moments to reflect on your skills and competencies and how well you are using them. Honesty, as usual, is the best policy. Consider three areas: what are you doing well, what has improved/are you improving, and what other areas need adjustment and improvement. Doing this quick assessment will help the meeting flow better. This simple exercise will assist you in preparing for the feedback meeting and will reduce the surprise effect.
  3. Observe your mindset and be willing to adjust it. It is natural and even tempting to perceive all feedback negatively and therefore personally. When you tie performance improvement to personal failure, you set yourself up emotionally and mentally for a negative internal experience. Conversely, if you consider effective feedback as the missing link to take your efforts to the next level, you would go running to find that information. As they say, when the desire to change is less painful than staying the same, a person will change. Feedback is often the catalyst for change.
  4. Reduce your limiting beliefs. It is tempting to reject criticism as unfair, not applicable, and even antagonistic. Divorcing the truth of the feedback from the intentions of the giver is very important. Truth is still truth even when delivered in a way we’d rather not experience with a person(s) we feel uncomfortable with or have reason to believe are trying to hurt us. In short, learn to discern.
  5. Set the initial tone. Why are you asking for the feedback to begin with? Do you really want genuine feedback? Are you looking for just praise and no feedback for improvement? Do you feel safe with the person(s) with whom you will be discussing these issues. Are you open to feedback? What are you looking for? It can be helpful to let the feedback giver know what specific areas you want feedback in and what are some areas that are off limits for now.
  6. Help others be more constructive. Unfortunately, many people suffer from “C.B.C” (Can’t Be Constructive), a worldwide phenomenon that has left many lying on their office floor begging for mercy. The fact is, you may have to gently and respectfully teach others your boundaries when it comes to how they share their feedback about you with you. Adopting a solution-focused mindset will go a long way for a better discussion if you want to build up “A.A.C.” skills in others (Actually Are Constructive another phenomenon that very few people have, much like the Members Only jackets of 80’s, many want in, few are invited).
  7. Avoid your brain’s invitation to ruminate. A strange word, ruminate. It means to overthink, essentially. To get stuck on or hyper focused. An example would be, “I can’t stop thinking about how wrong that idiot called my boss is about my performance when their performance is so lacking in ‘X’ area!”. This is not something I would say about my boss, just so you know. YOU might. I kid. Seriously, it’s hard to not think and rethink and rethink about feedback that, for lack of a better term, hurts. It does hurt. Let’s just be real about it. This is my blog, on behalf of someone else, but they would agree!

There you have it. It can be done and you can survive. You can effectively receive feedback. And, as previously mentioned, you can also effectively give feedback too. Such is the world of the work of peer recovery specialists. Remember one principle of this work is the concept of mutuality. Peer support, grounded in mutuality, can be beneficial for all involved. And the most important skill of all, is correctly timing the application of our favorite saying, “Whatchu Talkin’ ‘Bout Willis (insert non-Willis name here)” but that is for another blog.

Chris Newcomb

Chris Newcomb

VPRSN Coordinator

Chris Newcomb, M.Div., PRS, CPMC, CWF, CSSF is the VPRSN Coordinator on behalf of Mental Health America of Virginia. He holds a Bachelor in Psychology from Radford University and a Master of Divinity from Duke University. In his spare time, he is a singer/songwriter who loves to write new songs, practices Krav Maga, and enjoys time with family and friends.


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