The military style of communication is direct and to the point. There is no "grey area" when giving directives and orders. By contrast, in the civilian workforce, nuance, innuendo and tone have a lot to do when giving and receiving feedback. In a workplace situation, when receiving feedback it is critical to stop your natural default behaviors in order to gain valuable insight.
To improve your listening skills, particularly when receiving feedback, try to:
- Remove emotion and personal biases. This is easier said than done! When someone offers you feedback that feels critical, for instance, it is easy to assume they mean to hurt you or put you at a disadvantage. However, becoming defensive closes you off to hearing valuable suggestions that can position you for success. For example, if an interviewer tells you, "You're not a fit for our company. You'd have a tough time with our informal and relaxed work culture," they are reflecting how they perceive you. Right or wrong, your behavior and communication told them you are more formal, conservative, and possibly uptight. If you actually would enjoy a more laid back workplace, then you have learned that you communicated incorrectly.
- Assume good (and noble) intent. This tip goes hand-in-hand with my first point: If you remove the reaction of becoming defensive and argumentative when receiving feedback, and can assume good or noble intent, you detach from any negative emotion of what is being communicated. Assuming good intent requires that you believe the other person is coming from a place of coaching, helpfulness, or empathy in communicating with you. When you can assume good intent, you enlist others to help you and reward their input. With this this technique "… you let others know you have confidence in them, and people will often go to great lengths for someone who believes in them," notes Lisa Gaudet in her article, "The Rewards of Assuming Positive Intent."
- Clarify and repeat. The person offering you feedback may not be skilled at effective communications. They might say, "You messed up that interview!" instead of offering, "Compared to others like you, you were not as strong a candidate because of your lack of polish in the interview." Instead of guessing what they meant to say, or drawing a conclusion about their intent, clarify to get a better understanding. Ask questions like, "Could you explain what you mean by 'messed up' the interview?" or "Could you give me an example of what I could have done better or differently to be more effective?" Clarifying questions offer the speaker the chance to reframe or reposition their feedback, providing better input.
When communicating in the civilian workplace, you will find that it is equally important that what you say is matched by how you say it. Direct, candid and truthful is sometimes taken as hurtful and insensitive. When you find yourself receiving feedback or communication that seems confusing or cruel, stop and consider whether your filters are different from the person speaking with you. Adjust your process for taking in information, and try again. You might just be surprised by the value of their input!