While millennials may have led the way in asking for real-time feedback at work, we all appreciate the power of regular, constructive feedback. Organizations have seen the value in just-in-time feedback, including Microsoft, IBM, Adobe, Deloitte, GE and Linkedin and as a result these organizations have replaced dated annual performance evaluations with monthly, weekly and in some cases daily feedback or performance check-ins.
Feedback is valuable.
Yet we all know what it feels like to receive negative feedback. It can leave the most accomplished and confident of us wanting to hide in the corner of the room. Even the whiff of feedback and our defenses naturally go up. Think of the last time someone said, “Can I offer you some feedback?” Your brain likely felt like it was going into battle.
Doug Stone and Shelia Heen, Authors of Thank You For The Feedback share that as human beings we need to feel accepted, respected and safe – just as we are now.
We are neurologically predisposed to interpret feedback as a threat response. Daniel Goleman, psychologist and emotional-intelligence thought-leader first coined the phrase amygdala hijacking to describe the activation of the midbrain region, which is responsible for our fight, flight or freeze reactions. In highly emotionally charged states our ability to reason is compromised. It explains why in some instances good people behave poorly in conflict. From a biological perspective, escaping unharmed is far more relevant than having a cogent discussion or working on your business plan.
Neuroscientists Mathew Lieberman and Naomi Eisenberger have shown in their research that the brain is activated in the same way when feeling excluded from interpersonal interactions in the same way as it does when experiencing physical pain. Negative or critical feedback is akin to social pain.
It is no wonder that we experience feedback in such visceral, and unsettling ways.
We don’t have to be at the mercy of these biological tendencies. As professionals and leaders, we have the ability to exert choice about how we respond to feedback, which is critical to our growth and well-being professionally. Feedback serves as an information loop freeing us from the blind spots we may have regarding our behavior and how our behavior impacts others.
Here are some suggestions for leveraging feedback:
Firstly, while you might not want to act on your emotions, you are entitled to them whether you feel hurt, upset or angry. Recognize that your reaction is a natural one that you have the ability to manage.
Recognize that the person giving feedback may not have the skills, knowledge, and experience to share information in a way that is most constructive. Always assume best intent. By doing so, you will free yourself from the bonds of amygdala thinking and start to activate the pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for constructive, higher-order thinking.
Thank the person for taking the time to share the feedback, even if you don’t appreciate it or agree with it. Gratitude will free up cognitive resources shifting your brain into a more resourceful state. Inform the feedback-giver that you would want to think about what they have said. Taking a break from the conversation allows you to process the information, while keeping the lines of communication open thus protecting your good working relationship
Recognize that the feedback-giver has their own biases and experiences through which they are interpreting your behavior. Appreciate that no one knows you as well as you do. We judge our actions by internal factors, such as our experience, personality, and intentions, while others judge our behavior exclusively through our actions, something that psychologists refer to as the fundamental attribution error. Don’t assume that the feedback giver has all the information.
Ask clarifying questions if you receive generic or confusing feedback. For example, lets say that your boss has just given you feedback that you speak over other people at meetings. Is there a particular time when your boss can recall where they noticed you speaking over others? Is there a specific meeting that the feedback giver can recall that would give you some context about your behavior? Ask them to clarify what specific behavior would be more suitable or appropriate. Are there examples of those who demonstrate the behavior the feedback giver would like to see more? Continue to respectfully probe to get the feedback that you need. Remember that your brain is likely perceiving this conversation as a threat so work to remain as non-defensive as you can. Take some deep breaths, listen actively and maintain open body posture (that means keeping your arms and legs relaxed and your shoulders down). It is easy to discount feedback that feels uncomfortable or downright painful. Might there be a glimmer of truth in what you are hearing?
Get some distance as a way of reducing the emotional tension that may be keeping you from making greater sense of the information. Take a break, go for a walk or call a trusted colleague or coach.
Separate the person giving the feedback from the content itself. People are often less willing to accept criticism when it comes from someone that they don’t trust or don’t respect. You may be losing out on a prime opportunity to learn from this feedback. Would you have a different reaction if the same feedback came from a close friend or mentor?
Keep in mind that a single point doesn’t make a line. Look for additional sources of feedback to gain more data points about your behavior. Engage in a formal 360 review, ask your boss, peers, direct reports and coaches what they would offer to support or challenge the current feedback you are grappling with.
Develop a growth mindset. Carole Dweck, psychologist and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, describes that there are two types of mindsets when it comes to hearing feedback, 1. Fixed mindset versus 2. Growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset believe that they are either successful or not, whereas with a growth mindset people believe that success is possible with application and perseverance. Develop a growth mindset and you will find yourself more receptive to getting feedback in the future. Work with a mentor or a coach to help transform the feedback and support your career growth and personal satisfaction.
Ask yourself any or all of these six questions to promote a growth mindset:
What can I learn here?
What is the cost if I don’t accept this feedback?
How can I use this situation to get even better at this task?
How can I use this feedback to develop greater mastery?
If I had to deliver similar feedback to someone I liked, what would I say?
What strengths, traits or skills do I possess that I could use to help me address this feedback?
A specific piece of feedback, no matter how embarrassing or hurtful doesn’t need to label you. Feedback is merely one piece of information given at a single point in time by one individual through their perceptual lens. You get to decide if the feedback is valuable or not, and what if anything you are going to do with that new found information in the pursuit of success and career satisfaction.