Giving and receiving feedback certainly has a bad rap!
Let’s try and wrap it differently!
Recently, a colleague and I were talking about our challenges with giving and receiving feedback. We agreed that giving and getting useful feedback can be the fastest route to growth and improved performance. Yet, on another level we recognized that our tendency to let feedback wreak havoc on our feelings of self-worth was so dysfunctional. We realized that this contributed to our own resistance to giving feedback.
Although feedback is not always an accurate reflection of who you are, and sometimes it isn’t, it is always an accurate reflection of how you’re perceived. And knowing how you’re perceived is critical, especially as a leader.
Let’s be honest, no-one likes to be criticized. We all have a lifetime of experience receiving feedback, and logically we know that feedback is given to help us. Yet, for most of us, feedback generates an unpleasant knee-jerk reaction. Because we often find feedback hard to receive and act upon, we tend to make the act of giving feedback loaded with similar baggage.
Our brain experiences negative feedback the same way that it experiences physical pain and sees it as a direct threat. The latest brain neuroscience tells us that this threat can cause both the giver and the receiver’s stress hormone (cortisol) levels to rise, to defend us. As a result, the prefrontal cortex, our higher order thinking shuts down and our ability to learn and change is compromised. No wonder we can’t receive this feedback in a productive way. It’s how our brains work – our need to avoid pain and move away from shame (negative feedback) trumps our need to know more.
So let’s neutralize the word feedback and look at its intent – feedback can be a route to reaching our goals. It tells us to do more or perhaps less of something. And, if we choose to implement the suggested changes then we are on the road to growth. Feedback has the power to keep us moving towards becoming our best selves. Why then is receiving it with open arms and understanding, easier said than done?
Giving and receiving feedback, whether positive or negative, is a challenge, yet it is an integral part of the growth for all of us. Adopting the attitude that feedback is more about what we can do as we go forward, rather than about what we didn’t do well in the past, will enable us to embrace feedback as a gift, as well as lean into both giving and receiving it.
As professionals and as leaders, it might be hard to give and receive feedback, but, in the long run, it is even harder not to.
Carol Henry, Carol Henry Coaching
Angelika Dimoka, What does the Brain Tell Us About Trust and Distrust?, MIS Quarterly; 2010
Joseph R. Folkman;The Power of Feedback, Wiley Publishing, Hoboken New Jersey 2006
Daniel Goleman, Harvard Business Review Everyday Emotional Intelligence: Big Ideas and … By Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis, Annie McKee, Sydney Finkelstein 2018
Judith E. Glaser, Conversational Intelligence, Bibliomotion Inc. Brookline, MA, 2014