Receiving Feedback: What's the "Why" Behind that "What"?

I have written quite a bit on how important feedback is and how to give feedback in a way that it can be received well. This past week my team and I received some feedback from one of our customers. It was good feedback. It was hard feedback.  It was what I would call "healthy" feedback.  Some words were encouraging, which made me feel good because I know how much work and sweat my team and I have put in each and every day.  However, some words were challenging and honestly put me on the defensive, trying to justify in my mind how they were wrong or slightly inaccurate. I knew we were going to be discussing it in our next staff meeting and so I took my notes on the feedback email so I was prepared mostly with my responses to the challenging feedback. 

I sat down and my team lead, Sam, asked what we thought of the email. The "light" comments came out first like usual and then more passionate comments began coming out against some of the feedback. Sam then made a comment that stuck in my head. It will be one that I remember for the rest of my career. It isn't rocket science, but really keeps your mind in a place that doesn't allow you to get defensive and also helps you see the feedback in a positive way which allows you a better opportunity to embrace the change that may be needed. So what did he say? He said, "What's the why behind that what?". 

He wasn't saying that all the challenging feedback was right or not. He didn't want us to focus there. He wanted us to focus on the content, why the customer would give that feedback and what he truly meant by it. It enabled the whole team to stay positive, to better understand the feedback and, most importantly, to create plans to change.

I hope that the next time you receive feedback from your boss, your direct reports, your wife or husband that you will remember that every "what" has a "why". Remember to ask yourself seriously, "What's the why behind that what?" and hopefully you will be able to see the feedback in a more positive light which will help you to change more easily.