A Product Manager’s Tips on Responding to Feedback

Earlier in the year I wrote this article on LinkedIn. At the time I was a product manager for a large software company, and wanted to discuss some of the ways I had learned to accept feedback I was given, whether solicited or unsolicited.

As an active presence on Social Media, specifically twitter, this week had the theme of feedback: when to give and how to give it.

In the words of one twitter user:

Put something on the internet, you are going to get feedback… constructive, positive, negative. It is becoming one of the few guarantees in life. – Curtis Harris

Feedback can be a gift, it can help us course correct the direction we’re going, and give us perspectives we do not have as individuals. That assumes that the individual giving you feedback is assuming positive intent, and have your best interests in mind. Unfortunately we live in a world where people are not always kind, or cruel. At This Underdog Life, we care about others and helping others grow to be your best self. This is done by giving constructive feedback, and not gratuitous feedback.

Here are some tips on how you as an individual can receive feedback, no matter the intent of the giver. You cannot control the actions of the giver, but you can control how you respond to their words.

A Product Manager’s Tips on Responding to Feedback

I get paid the big bucks to be told what I am doing wrong. In fact, being told what I am doing wrong is so ingrained into my work persona, that I no longer think of it as wrong, rather as necessary. Perhaps you’re wondering what it is I do, that I encourage negative critiques? Ehhhh…let’s be honest, you’re probably questioning my sanity now and wondering if you want to keep reading. What kind of career have I chosen that I encourage negative feedback?

Why, I’m a product manager of course.

If you’re not familiar with product managers, here is a quick breakdown:

Product Managers represent the voice of your customer. This means actively pursuing customer feedback to gain insight into their raw, unfiltered point of view, giving it to you straight no chaser. A product manager is the one behind the scenes capturing this information to inform future strategy decisions based off what the customer wants and needs.

Wow product managers are amazing, can I have one (see my LinkedIn profile for more details…I kid, I kid…)?”

Why is this is important? Because Product Managers are amazing at receiving feedback (also humble). Being a product manager, I rely on feedback to effectively do my job; I’ll fail the customer if I don’t. But let’s be honest, feedback can be a very personal and emotional experience, especially if it isn’t given constructively. Being emotional creatures reduces our ability to respond logically when this happens. While we cannot control how others deliver feedback, we can control HOW we receive feedback.

How do you receive feedback without responding emotionally? Respond like a product manager! Here are 4 of my tried and true tips that have helped to keep me honest with my responses and my motivations for receiving feedback.

1.  It’s not about you. 

  • If you’re receiving feedback, it’s because someone has information they want to impart to you. Assume positive intent in their feedback. The best thing you can do is to respect the other party and listen. Before going into the feedback session, it can be helpful to give yourself a pep talk and state what the intended goal is for this feedback session. If it’s just to listen, and make an assessment later, that is ok. Either way, let the other party say what it is they need to say, and know that this is for them, even though you are on the receiving end. This can be difficult as it could potentially bruise your ego. Which leads me to my next point.

2.   Silence is acceptable. 

  • We’ve all encountered people in our lives who have a response no matter what, a need to always have the last word. We also know how it feels when this happens, it diminishes how we feel, or annoys us. How do you feel when that happens? There are moments in life where silence is an acceptable response, and this is one. There will be plenty of time to respond later, if at all. Which when you do….

3.   Listen first, pause, say thank you.

  • This is where our defensive mechanisms can kick in, but self-awareness is a better ally. Maybe you just heard something you didn’t want to hear, but level set with yourself first before you respond. Be gracious. It took a lot for this person to tell you what they did, even if it’s hard to hear. Even if it didn’t, think of your ego, and try to stand outside of it, and see things from their perspective. It’s hard to be wrong, but this is an opportunity for growth, and saying thank you, regardless, will reduce friction in feedback.

4.  Accept or Reject, move on.

  • It’s always your choice to accept what the person has said, and introduce the potential for change, or reject it and not introduce change. However, no matter what you decide to do, you need to move on once you’ve decided, and let go of your emotional reaction. This is where knowing who you are, and what your motivations are can help you. Grudges are not allowed.

Am I perfect at this? No! But I keep practicing these skills and continually improving through my practice. I also know what my end goal is, and the only way to get there is to make sure I’m receiving feedback. While this initially started out with customers, I practice these tips in all my professional relationships. Constructive criticism is how we learn about our weaknesses—allowing us opportunities to continually iterate and improve. Remember, receiving feedback like a product manager isn’t easy, but it always helps us to be better.

Let me know which ones work best for you!

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