Do you really love receiving feedback?
Ask anyone around you and they will say that they love receiving feedback. You will hear phrases like “I have to know what I can do better: it really helps me when someone tells me what I am doing wrong” or “All I want from my manager is for her to give me feedback, positive or negative”. We might all agree that that is what we are rationally thinking, but is that really what we are feeling?
Just by hearing someone telling us “let’s have a meeting, I would like to give you some feedback”, all of our rational thinking goes away and we are now slaves of our emotional brain. Imagine even, your boss telling you that the meeting is not going to be held until the end of the day. How productive will you be until then? Probably not much, as emotions such as anxiety have this nasty habit of occupying a lot of our energy.
There are many courses out there on how to give feedback, but being on the receiving end is not a piece of cake either and sometimes we neglect that part. Being receptive when getting feedback is a skill that needs to be developed, as any other one related to emotional intelligence and our interpersonal skills. After all, you don’t want to waste the whole day waiting for that meeting, right?
Why is it that getting feedback is so hard for us, if it is something that we, in our own words, love to receive? Well, it is something that requires self-awareness and a conscious effort to get better at (if you think about it, so does everything we love).
In their book “Thanks for the Feedback,” authors Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone explain it like this: “Receiving feedback sits at the junction of two conflicting human desires: we want to learn and grow,
and we also want to be accepted just as we are right now. Even though we know that feedback is
essential for healthy relationships and professional development, we dread it and often dismiss it.”
So, receiving feedback is a bold statement of our personal contradiction, and our brain hates being challenged in what we know is true.
To start this path of self-awareness and personal growth, I wanted to share some tools and techniques that you can start working on today. Start practicing and, hopefully, you will walk out of a feedback conversation with the satisfaction that you weren’t completely managed by your emotional brain.
Know your triggers
The sole phrase of “I have some feedback for you” gets your emotions going. Why is this? Well, because your brain forgets that it is now the 21st century and that not every confrontation is a sign of danger, so it overreacts. When it detects that you are facing a potential threat, your brain doesn’t want you to (over)think because it needs you to (re)act fast. This means, emotions take over and you are not able to focus on anything else.
The first step to deal with this is being self-aware: understand that those words from that person will bring your brain automatically to be on guard. Remind yourself that it is not a ferocious beast trying to eat you but it is someone trying to help you improve. Keep in mind that no one enjoys giving negative feedback, so if they take the time to do so with you, it means they are investing in your personal growth.
If you already identify that situations like this will instantly bring your emotions to the center of the stage, the best thing to do is to call it out. Once you do, you will be more prepared to walk into that conversation, and the energy required to go back to your rational this-is-just-a-normal-conversation- brain, will be less. Knowing why your anxiety kicked in and realizing it is just your brain overreacting will help you rationalize the situation and stop wasting your energy in unreal threats.
Have a growth mindset
Being accepted as you are right now and wanting to grow and develop at the same time is not a zero-sum equation. Work on your mindset and make sure you are not fixing your development with phrases like “I am just not a creative person” or “I am an introvert, so I can’t give a successful presentation to a big audience.'' Instead, strive to develop what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset, and “see failure not as evidence of not having the right skills but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching (y)our existing abilities”. If you receive negative feedback and frame it as a challenge instead of a threat, it will help you uncover new possibilities. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know, so just discovering something new when receiving feedback will open new doors for potential development paths to follow.
Take your time to process the information before you react
As has been mentioned before, when we face a situation that we find challenging, our rational brain might shut down and leave the space for emotions to take over. Receiving negative feedback could have that effect on us, and if we fight back immediately, we might be reacting instead of responding.
What’s the difference? As Rich Hanson puts it: Reacting is instinctual. Responding is a conscious choice.
So, next time you receive a piece of feedback, put into practice these helpful techniques:
● Start by asking as many questions as possible to understand where the other person is coming from. Don’t assume, don’t fill in the blanks, just listen and check your understanding.
● Once you are both on the same page, acknowledge the other person’s point of view and be grateful for their time. As mentioned before, no one enjoys giving negative feedback, so think about this as an extra effort from the giver in helping you grow, instead of viewing it as an attack on you or your personality.
● Finally , and after that conversation is over, reflect on what you just heard. Sleep on it and prepare your action plan: what are you going to do (if anything) with what you know now, that you might not have known before?
On a final note, as with many things related to soft skills and behavioural changes, it all sounds really good on paper but it is harder to put it into practice. My last piece of advice is: don’t get decision paralysis. Start small, choose one of the above that you can already start implementing tomorrow and go forward from there. Once you convert this behavior into a habit, adopt a new one.
Any small step towards becoming a better “feedback-receiver” will help you grow exponentially, as you will be more open to identifying new ways of doing things and reducing things “you didn’t know that you didn’t know.''
Services like Goforward Training can help you to improve your work and grow personally.