Boosters : Receiving Feedback

The pain! It hurt’s. That stung. I hate it.

Yep, it sure does hurt when we receive developmental /constructive /negative feedback at work. And we remember it. Boy, does it stick. Word for word (or at least we tell ourselves that’s the case). And we remember how it makes us feel. But do we remember all the positive things that are said in the same amount of detail? Not usually, no. And this is why.

When we receive feedback (information) that we judge to be negative (threatening), our brain goes back to that archaic response of fight, flight or freeze. Our ability to be creative, open minded and rational diminishes as these functions shut down so as to preserve the adrenaline fuelled responsive part of the brain that will steer our next steps. Add to this the fact that it takes longer for our bodies then to process and release these chemicals than when we receive positive feedback, it’s no wonder that the receipt of negative feedback can affect our mood and our ability to concentrate for some time afterwards.

So what can we do about it?

Try these three tips to lessen the pain.

  1. Acknowledge what’s happening. Next time you feel yourself responding this way, remind yourself that this is how the body is programmed, that it will take time to process and that perspective and balance are not far away.
  2. Remember the 5:1 rule. Generally speaking, for a relationship to work, there need to be 5 positive elements for every one negative one. So, if on balance, you know there are 5 things you contribute to your role that you do well, working on improving one thing generally is acceptable. Remind yourself of all the things you do brilliantly and think about how you can use those to help you with the developmental area. E.g if you have had feedback that you rush ahead with ideas without consulting others and you know that among the things that you do brilliantly is have a trusted network and are approachable, use these to help.
  3. Ask for feedback. Being given feedback without warning, or worse, preceeded by ‘Can I give you some feedback?’ puts us straight into the fight or flight mode mentioned earlier, shutting down our abilities to really hear what the other person is saying. When we own the receipt of feedback, we are more likely to be responsive, hear what is said and use questions to engage and understand further. Yes, it will still hurt but we are more in control so the impact is lessened. They key to this is being specific. Asking ‘How am I doing’ leaves you open to a whole range of responses. Asking ‘what could I do even better next time I chair the team meeting?’ is much more likely to generate a response that is helpful to you.

Oh, and spare a thought for the person giving you the feedback. They may not show it, but studies show that people are as anxious about delivering feedback as they are about receiving it!