How to Learn to Love Feedback
Most of us know that feedback is essential to growing personally and professionally. The problem is that the words that can most help you grow are often the hardest to hear. As a result, we all have moments when we avoid it like the plague.
So how do we learn to tolerate, and even crave feedback? First, let’s understand why it’s so hard to take in the first place.
Turns out, it’s pretty basic. Negative feedback triggers a primitive fight or flight reaction due to creating a “sense of exclusion” – a serious threat to survival in hunter-gatherer societies.* If you ever wondered why criticism creates a burning anger inside you, it may be because your anciently programmed body is telling you that this person is betraying you and quite literally going to leave you to die.
Obviously, this is not even figuratively what is happening. This person is most likely trying to help you (and if not, this probably isn’t a great colleague, and the tips below will help anyway). How do we train ourselves to react to feedback rationally in our modern context? Practicing these tips should start you on your way.
1. It’s all perception.
Learn to recognize that the other person’s perception of you is just that – a perception. You are with yourself more often than any other person in the world, and while you probably don’t have a particularly objective view of you, others are missing information.
Does that mean you should ignore feedback because it’s just perception? Absolutely not. But rather than view it as a commentary on who you are, imagine it more as a little photograph of you from their camera, filtered by their favorite lens. It’s a piece of information that can give you a new perspective you could not have had via a selfie, but it’s far from the whole picture and may not align with how others view you. That said, however skewed this person’s opinion may be, they and others close to them probably have an impact on your life or career, and this piece of information is useful to you.
2. See it as a tool.
Are you wondering why you haven’t gotten the promotion you deserve, no one is replying to your email, or your team isn’t laughing at your jokes? While all of these things could be a reflection on the other people involved, wouldn’t you like to know if there is something you could start or stop doing that would change the outcome in your favor? In the organization’s favor? A little snapshot of you from the outside world is the starting point to changing your reality.
3. Say “thank you.”
When you see feedback as a bit of insight that you can use as a tool to help you achieve your desired outcomes, you will start to see it as a gift instead of a threat. The truth is, the opinion existed whether you heard about it or not. But to help move you closer to that mindset, start with a simple “thank you for sharing that with me,” even if you are burning on the inside. Expressing gratitude will make it sting a little less each time.
4. Remember, you are the decider.
Not every piece of feedback is relevant to you or even valid. Some feedback may be more useful than you could possibly imagine. Think critically about the feedback you receive. Do others likely have the same opinion as this person? In what ways could making this change help you achieve your goals? In what ways could it hinder you? In what ways could it help your team?
Then, prioritize. We have limited energy. What is the most valuable piece of feedback you’ve received lately? What would take the least effort to improve? Does any of it contradict each other? Choose carefully what you want to work on and when. It is your choice.
So what’s the next step? Practice! The next time a situation doesn’t go positively, consider what was in your control, identify the most rational and honest person involved, and ask them directly how they view the situation and your actions. Be clear that you want them to be honest and not sugar-coat. Then, take the feedback as this single person’s perspective but consider it carefully, say “thank you” sincerely, and take some time by yourself to consider what they said before you make your next move. The more perspectives you get, the more information you have and you will start to see trends. You will begin to piece together a more holistic view of yourself that will allow you to choose who you become in the years ahead.
*Impraise Blog. Overcoming The Fear Of Feedback. Retrieved from https://blog.impraise.com/360-feedback/overcoming-the-fear-of-feedback-performance-review
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