How to Accept Positive Feedback

I have been working with a development team as a scrum master for over two years. A few members have changed in that time but for the last six months it has been an intact team. We just did a Sprint Retrospective after a product launch that took about 6 months to deploy. It was a successful launch. I facilitate a retrospective for the team to acknowledge one another for strengths they brought to the launch. I had sent everyone on the team a deck of “At My Best” cards which had 48 cards with words on one side and a photo on the opposite side for my participants to use. I have used these cards several times in what is called “Quick-fire feedback”. I select one team member and ask everyone else to select a card that represents the strength that person brought to the team in the last six months. I then ask everyone to show their card one at a time and explain why they selected it. The outcome of this exercise is always surprising and heartwarming, but it is definitely uncomfortable for the person receiving the feedback.

Most of this team had done this exercise before either in person or in a conference room. They had never done this exercise via video but it was remarkable because the first receiver of the feedback, we’ll call them Mary, had put on a pair of sunglasses when the feedback started. This started a trend that, as each person was selected to receive feedback, they either put on sunglasses or turned off their video or, in one case, covered their eyes with playing cards propped in their glasses. I found this to be so remarkable that if we didn’t “see” the person giving the feedback, it would be easier. Or perhaps they just didn’t want to be seen themselves. This prompted me to think about how to accept positive feedback and what follows are some of my suggestions.

How to accept positive feedback:

Thank you

One of the participants, Bob, loves feedback. Good or bad. Constructive or blunt. I noticed that he would say “thanks” after each teammate gave him his positive feedback. He didn’t wear sunglasses, he didn’t hide behind the screen, didn’t cross his arms, he just simply said: “Thanks.” I find that several of my coachees in the past have had a hard time taking a compliment.  So, if I said, “I love that blouse on you,” Suzy would respond with, “This old thing? I got it on sale ten years ago.” This negates the compliment and makes me feel like I’m incorrect or have bad taste. I’m wary to give more positive feedback to Suzy going forward. As Jacqueline Whitmore wrote for Entrepreneur, “Any time you receive a compliment, reply with ‘Thank you.’ It’s a simple, but powerful phrase. The person bestowing the compliment will be most receptive to a humble response.”  It’s simple and straight forward and, in the end, calls less attention to the receiver without diminishing the positive feedback.

Credit

This entire exercise was about sharing credit for the product launch. Even as team members received the feedback, they were quick to credit other members for their help as well. If you are the manager of a team that did a great job, it’s so helpful to share the credit with the whole team and it diverts your attention from disclaiming the attention. As Whitmore wrote, “Some powerful executives reach a point where they no longer publicly recognize or give credit to those who helped them succeed. This is the quickest way to lose friends. Instead, share your positive feelings.” Sharing the credit is a great way to bolster others and acknowledge the team’s effort.

Question

If it is appropriate, ask a question. This can be a great way to start a conversation like, “Thanks. I am glad you liked the turnaround time for the project. What timeline do you have for the widget project?” As Katie McLaughlin wrote for Pick Any Two, “This one’s downright practical. When someone gives you kudos, see if you can get them to elaborate a bit; their feedback might be really useful for future endeavors.” It’s also a sign that you are truly listening to the feedback. 

Body language

It interesting that because everyone on that call last week was in their home, they could go run and get a pair a sunglasses. If they had been at work, that option would not have been available. It’s remarkable that many chose to hide behind sunglasses, or crossed their arms or turned off their camera. Trying to disappear from the feedback. And this was all positive feedback! As Whitmore espoused, “If you’re uncomfortable or nervous, your nonverbal cues may give the wrong impression. Don’t cross your arms or appear disinterested. Instead, maintain eye contact, lean slightly forward and engage those around you with warm facial expressions. Enjoy your moment of praise.” I will say that my scrum team was having a great time giving the feedback and there was a lot of laughter although many members were clearly uncomfortable receiving the positive feedback. I did sense that the participants would try and be briefer with the feedback if the body language was obvious that they were uncomfortable. 

I have to say that I love this activity and I love that it works with a virtual team so long as they have the cards in hand. I ended the activity with everyone selecting a card to represent what they aspired the team to be going forward with the next product launch. Having closure with the team members receiving feedback about their unique contribution to the outcome is engaging and inspiring. Regardless of the discomfort some folks felt, the bonding and positive focus on strengths was engaging and empowering to the team as a unit and I’m glad I was there to experience it.

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