Are you a coachable designer?

Feedback usually isn’t fun to hear.

Know anyone who actually looks forward to their annual performance reviews? Bleh. Most don’t.

I still don’t look forward to reviews or coaching conversations with my boss—even when I’m crushing it at work and have a great relationship with my boss.

However, just because most of us don’t look forward to coaching doesn’t mean it isn’t important to our designs skills and career advancement. In fact, being coachable is extremely important if you want to move forward in your design career.

The catch is, coaching only moves you forward if you actually do something with the feedback that is given to you. Failure to actually receive and act on the constructive feedback limits you.

Resist or ignore feedback from your manager and you’ll pay a price over time. Missed opportunities, unrealized career potential, and perhaps even missed promotions.

So how do you know if you’re a coachable designer?

  • Has your boss provided you the same feedback more than once?
  • Do you find yourself getting defensive or making excuses when feedback is given?
  • Do you find yourself blaming others or outside circumstances?
  • Do you pretend to listen, only to turn around and deny the feedback once you leave your boss’s desk?
  • Do you go gossip and complain to others about the feedback?
  • If any of the above describes you, you may be resistant to feedback.

Note: Is all feedback 100% accurate? Nope, of course not. But there are usually nuggets of truth and some level of accuracy with any feedback. Now that we’ve covered why feedback matters, let’s talk about how designers can effectively receive feedback…

How to be a coachable designer

1. Listen

I know. I’ve been pounding on the topic of listening with my writing almost every week. I get it. But listening is a big deal if you want to grow as a designer. If you’re getting feedback from somebody, it usually makes sense to have a discussion with the person providing the feedback, and dig in a little deeper with more questions as to what they are really saying. If it is your boss providing the feedback, make sure you’re taking notes and physically writing it down.

2. Rewind

Yep, I’ve been a broken record on this too. Repeat back to them what they said and confirm that what they said is what you heard.

3. Don’t blame

Rarely does it make sense to state how others have compromised a project. Doing so should be the rare exception and not the normal, and should be strictly based on the facts, not personal drama. Blaming others should not be a pattern. If you go around playing the blame game it will catch up with you. To effectively receive feedback you have to take responsibility for what you can improve.

4. Defend sparingly

The vast majority of the time we should be open to feedback without getting defensive. Being defensive typically isn’t productive. You may have grounds to defend yourself if you are receiving feedback, but doing so should be a rare occurrence. Like blaming others, this shouldn’t be the normal response. If you exert a lot of effort defending yourself

5. Act on it

Take action on the feedback that you have been given. Like I said earlier, resisting or ignoring feedback from your manager could cost you career advancement over time.

Note: Is all feedback 100% accurate? Nope, of course not. But as I mentioned earlier, there are usually nuggets of truth and some level of accuracy with any feedback. All feedback should be considered. The important thing here is that there is a distinction between feedback delivered from your boss or a peer. Both could be valuable, but resistance to your manager’s feedback is what will really cost you.

6. Demonstrate progress

When it is your boss who has provided you with feedback, be sure to keep notes for yourself on exactly how you have actively implemented the feedback. Note the action you have taken, and share it back with your boss at some point. With my last review, my VP had an area of improvement for me. I proceeded to document how I have made improvements in the area of improvement, and I’ll be sharing it with my boss in the future. This way my boss knows that when he gives me feedback I act on it and can prove the steps I have taken to improve in that area.

That’s how it’s done. Being coachable helps you build a good reputation with your manager. When you demonstrate to your boss over time that you are receptive to coaching and actually take action on it, then he or she knows they can work with you on any growth areas when they surface. That’s a win for you. When you listen and take feedback seriously you can improve and develop in areas that you were blind to, which allows you to grow and improve in areas that move you forward in your design career.

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