Let’s face it – most people don’t like feedback. Somehow it feels like a chink in our armor and it’s a reminder that we’re not perfect. BTW, no one fits that mold. And if they do, I’d like to see them leap tall buildings in a single bound. It’s easy to talk about how to give feedback. But it’s a harder talk about how to receive feedback, good or bad.
Our first reaction to feedback can be anger, fear, frustration, tension, resistance, irrational thoughts, and feeling defensive. How can we shift our reaction to feedback? How can we respond to feedback we don’t want to hear? What are the benefits of feedback?
A negative response to feedback seems to be a natural response. It feels natural to think that feedback is usually bad – we associate it with job performance, grades, other personal traits.
But feedback also has a learning curve just like anything else. Good or bad, feedback can help us overcome our feedback fear as I call it.
I experienced feedback fear when I worked on a dissertation project. It was the first time I had to organize my research idea into a product that made sense to other people.
I had to send it to my committee team for their feedback. Despite my desire to write the “perfect paper” and my fear and loathing of their response, I hit “send”.
My paper was now in the hands of my committee – I tried to brace myself for any hard feedback from my team.
Accepting Hard Feedback
Do you wonder why feedback is hard to accept? Why do we resist asking for feedback, good or bad? A study noted that resistance is common because feedback is informal.
We hear feedback as vague, indirect – we can’t tell if it’s just opinion or based on fact.
And it also depends on who’s giving us feedback – friends, family, the boss, your committee members. But who wants to hear about what they’re doing wrong? About their mistakes?
Feedback is hard because sometimes we hear it as coaching (training or teaching) when it might be only an evaluation (appraisal or opinion).
For example, a performance review about your work habits can be a suggestion to make your job easier.
But we might hear it as a direct criticism of how we work. In the end, we can have a positive (a suggestion) or negative (criticism) response to feedback. Accepting hard feedback is a challenge for many people.
Let’s talk about how feedback helps us – what are the benefits of feedback?
- Feedback shines a light our relationship with the world and the world’s relationship with us. The way we respond depends on that relationship.
- We develop leadership skills by receiving feedback. The person who receives the feedback is in control – they decide how to process or ignore the information.
- Even negative feedback can be useful. If most of the feedback is wrong, some part of it is right. Use the positive information to process feedback.
- We can ask questions. For example, we can ask “What happened in the past that prompted this feedback?” “How can I do things differently next time?”
- Feedback helps us recognize blind spots. We all have them and it’s hard to see our own flaws. Feedback from others are signals of how other people relate to us.
- Feedback uncovers switchtracking or when two conversations happen at once: one person says it’s cold outside, another says it’s warm inside.
- Our listening skills can improve from feedback. Signposting helps us to reconcile two points of view and acknowledge that both parties have different agendas.
These benefits give us a moment of pause before responding (or reacting) to feedback. It’s a chance for us to take control of the conversation.
So what happened after I sent my paper to my committee team? Their feedback revealed gaps in my research, questions that needed answers, and different perspectives to consider.
Committee feedback was bad because I had to step back and revise sections of my paper, a slow and tedious process. And it was good because it forced me to evaluate my assumption and understand new ideas. Feedback helped me earn my PhD.
I learned that feedback is a tool for improvement. And it gave me a thick skin. The most important lesson: Feedback is not personal, it’s part of the learning process
Examine what is said and not who speaks.