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Receiving Constructive Feedback

We all say we want constructive feedback, but not all of us are equipped to receive it, openly and in a manner that makes it a worthwhile effort on everyone’s part. Although there seems to be lots of opportunities to learn how to deliver feedback, I think what’s missing is learning how to receive it. Being skilled at receiving feedback can make the process more manageable and comfortable for everyone involved! And we just have to trust that our counterparts are doing their part in learning how to best deliver it. They have their work cut out for them, so let’s help them out a bit!

Delivering constructive feedback is an incredibly difficult skill to develop. It takes practices and it can be scary! Same goes for receiving feedback. So, here’s my list on how to receive constructive feedback, which I was explain at length afterwards:

1. Be open.
2. Embrace the uncomfortableness of it.
3. Don’t take it personally.
4. Don’t argue.
5. Look at the big picture.
6. Solicit feedback from multiple sources.
7. Consider it a skill and practice it.
8. Thank the person who delivered it.

1. Be Open
Being open to constructive feedback is the single most important part of receiving it. Being open allows others to want to give it to us and allows them to feel more comfortable doing it. But it’s hard to just “be open”. I get that. So really, the next few points may help us become more open to feedback.

2. Embrace the Uncomfortableness
Hearing anything bad (i.e., anything that doesn’t tell us how wonderful and perfect and glorious we are) can be very uncomfortable. Who wants to hear that we suck at this and can’t do that properly or as well as others? No one really. At least not at the time. But this type of feedback is incredibly helpful and allows us to use it constructively… so
we can construct the skills we want to use and apply!

At the time, hearing it can feel awful, especially when it’s combined with “and so we cut you!”. 😉 But after the fact, it’s generally ok and if we receive it well, we can use it to our advantage, to alter our course, and to come out a better and more skilled player. But the fact remains that at some point there are moments of uncomfortableness. While writing this, I was waiting for a call from the Capitals captain to tell me whether I made the fall roster or not. The call came and those first few moments were extremely uncomfortable as I waited to hear her eventually say “Unfortunately, blah blah blah. ” I’m not entirely sure what she said after “unfortunately” because my heart sank. Nonetheless, the uncomfortableness passed as I asked if there was any feedback and then I just listened. I sensed she no longer felt uncomfortable either because, I was ready to receive the feedback openly.

3. Don’t Take it Personally
I didn’t. I appreciated what was being told to me and I didn’t feel like it at all reflected my worth as a person. My skills as an ultimate player only reflects one aspect of my being. My skills were being judged relative to other players. This was about the team composition and the best way to ensure that their team was going to win the most games and do their best possible. Whether I fit into that or not was about my skills as an ultimate player and what I brought to a team, not what my value is in this entire world! Although the feedback was personalized… it was not, and is not, personal.

4. Don’t Argue
Just don’t, plain and simple. DO NOT ARGUE!

If you hear something and immediately disagree, don’t voice it. It immediately makes the situation uncomfortable and creates a defense-attack scenario that is notoriously challenging. (For those who are already arguing with ME, just read on… and see where I’m going with this).

Try to just listen to what is being said. Try to believe as if the words are true without discounting them, immediately. If we don’t take this personally, it’s a lot easier!

Not arguing is an especially good practice if we have, in fact, asked for the feedback – which, surprisingly, even in those situations, I have heard people argue. Just imagine how frustrating it is for someone who put time and effort into coming up with feedback (because it was being solicited), for our benefit, only to have it shot down and disagreed with. Remember, we’re trying to create an atmosphere to have a open, fluid communication regarding places where we can improve. Would arguing with the person delivering it be conducive to future acts of delivering feedback?

5. Consider the Big Picture
Ok, so were not allowed to argue. Does that mean we have to take the feedback we just received as the gospel? No way! What we are hearing is one angle. Just as much as we cannot possibly know every angle of our own self with complete accuracy, neither can another person. What may be true in one set of circumstances may not be true in another. What may be seen by one observer may not be seen by another. In fact, we really have no idea whether the feedback we are receiving is accurate or not.

So why bother receiving it? Because feedback is information that be integrated into the whole. Feedback is information that is presented from one person to another to help inform another person, to help provide that other person with further information, and to help that person expand self-awareness. It should be received, digested, processed, and integrated with existing knowledge, and be used as the receiver desires. If implementing the feedback is necessary for maintaining a particular role on a team, then the receiver still has the choice of whether or not to take on that challenge. I’m sure

we have all watched people completely ignore feedback and do their own thing. We can chose if we want to be that person. Feedback is FYI. In fact, often when I give feedback (particularly when it’s unsolicited!) I add “for your consideration” because, in fact, it is for the other person to determine how to consider this information along with everything

Feedback also changes over time. So in the big picture, what may be true today, may no longer be true tomorrow. Today, I received feedback that my disc skills and athleticism were at par with the rest of the team. GREAT FEEDBACK! That reinforces the fact that committing to being in ultimate shape and practicing throwing often pays off! I also got feedback that my cutting skills showed lack of confidence or lack of awareness. WHAT??? NO WAY MAN! I am a superb cutter! That’s what I’ve always been told!

Oh oh! I just violated point number 4! Alternatively, if I don’t argue, and just listen openly, then I can actually hear what is being said. In fact, when I consider this piece of feedback along with the whole context, I can see where they are coming from and that my cutting doesn’t cut it at this level. I need to give, do, be more… Under these new circumstances, I don’t measure up. Now, if I still want to argue about whether I can, the only proof they need is the proof I can deliver on the field, not through sophisticated argument techniques that I learned for the defense of my PhD dissertation.

6. Solicit Feedback from a Variety of Sources
As we consider the big picture, it’s worth noting that feedback doesn’t just come in the form of words from captains and coaches. There are many ways that we can receive information in order to develop into better ultimate players. For example, we can ask teammates “What do you think I bring to this team, skillwise?” or “Why do you think I didn’t get that disc there?” People have different observational skills. Some will notice that we looked away a few seconds before we attempted to grab the disc. Others will notice that we have great defense but we tend to get broken. Still others will notice that we just don’t seem to “want it” but can’t put their finger on why they feel that way. We can also ask friends we play against and with, coaches, friends who come to watch, anyone really. We can also ask other people what they do in certain circumstances and gain great feedback just by learning that other perspective.

But there are still more ways we can receive feedback. All information is received by our superior information processor – our brain. Information is received, processed, integrated, and then used to generate output, accordingly. This is the nature of feedback. In addition to receiving verbal information, our brain also processes information visually and kinesthetically. So we can actually watch and learn and try to mimic what we see in others with our own bodies. In fact, our body itself is an excellent source of kinesthetic feedback.

My yoga teaching and practice is based on the type of feedback we get from developing inner awareness and responding to it. I move into one position, feel how my body responds, perhaps “WHOA! that hurts dammit!” or “Hey man, there’s lots more stretching room there, give’r!”.

And of course, there’s always the good ‘ole match up with someone else. If you want to know how fast you are or how skilled you are at reading the disc, just go mark up with someone you already know is skilled in those departments. It’s a lot harder to argue with that feedback!

All of these are excellent ways of receiving feedback that can be integrated into our existing knowledge. They bring the onus back on ourselves to do the work to gather feedback. It puts fewer expectations on our captains and coaches to be the sole and “ultimate” providers of feedback and reminds us to that there is a big picture to consider.

What skill in ultimate, or life for that matter, requires that we not practice it? Does an expert pianist stop playing and rely on his or her “gift”? Is a medical doctor allowed to maintain his or her license without continuing medical education? Does a handler lose his/her fine touch if he or she hasn’t thrown in a year. YES! YES! YES!

Receiving feedback openly and using it constructively is a skill that we need to practice! That could mean putting our selves in situations that require us to feel uncomfortable and to solicit feedback often (from multiple sources). We also need to practice our communication skills so we can ask good clarifying questions about the feedback in a way that is not argumentative, but rather is open and receptive. We need to practice not letting it all be personal. We need to practice seeing the big picture.

8. Thank the Person!
I said at the beginning, delivering constructive feedback is a tough job. A captain or coach has to take time away from his/her own duties, and possibly practice time, away from other players, and away from the team as a whole in order to find specific points that will be helpful for the player in question. The captain/coach also has to pad it with positive feedback so that it is more digestible and has to provide examples so the feedback is tangible. Often, they also have to coordinate with other captains/coaches to have a unified voice. And then the captain/coach has to arrange time to deliver the feedback and go through the process of delivering it to at least some people who are not equipped to receive it. It can be quite the process. So it’s a nice gesture if we can find the words to thank the person, whether we agree or not, for taking the time to think about us and how to help us improve. What a generous person!

On that note, if anyone has any feedback for me on how these articles can be improved, I’m all ears! In fact, I’m in the process of developing a sports psychology course specifically for ultimate players, captains, and coaches and could use the feedback! What do you like? What do you not like? What do you agree or disagree with? What made no sense? What needs more examples? What needs to be completely re-written? Need more science? Need more brain stuff? Need more exercises?

Go ahead… I’m ready to practice! 😉

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