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What is the first emotion you feel when you hear the word ‘feedback?’ I remember my first 360 review.  I was petrified.  I hear clients talk about the anxiety that is generated when they know feedback is on the way.  Why does it have to be this way?

One of the main reasons feedback creates such feelings of terror is that we fear rejection & criticism.  If we find out that we are possibly being rejected from the pack leader or our peers, it activates a fight or flight response.  Feedback can activate areas of our brain that were designed to protect us during the time of the cave man.

We have an opportunity to improve our ability to deliver feedback and to receive feedback.  This is part of your job as a leader.

“You did an excellent job.” – “You could have done better in this area.” These are both types of feedback.  One is considered positive and another is considered constructive or negative.  What should we do with positive or negative feedback?

There are several responses to feedback that is positive:

1.) Addiction:  We can become addicted to positive feedback. Our professional lives can be consumed with making sure people are pleased with our work.  When we hear a positive remark, we hold on tight as if it is a lifeline.  A self-actualized leader is one that is independent of the opinions of others.  A self actualized leader pursues their vision and considers positive or negative feedback as a part of the journey – not the destination.

2.) Neglect:  We can sometimes dismiss positive remarks.  We do not acknowledge the remarks as accurate.   This can hold several forms – such as questioning the person delivering the positive remarks or dismissing the accuracy of the statement.

3.) Acknowledge: A third approach is to acknowledge the feedback and move on.  A good healthy positive phrase would be – “Thank you.” or “I am glad you found this helpful.”

A critical element in your work is to assess your motives.  Are you doing this work to gain positive feedback or to provide a service to others?

What do we do when the feedback is negative or critical?

1.) Amygdala Takeover: The amygdala is the emotional brain center of the brain or the place where the brain responds to threats.  A takeover occurs during a triggering event and we become stressed or anxious.  Sometimes the emotions of the feedback take us out and we struggle to focus on anything except for the feedback.  This is that flight or fight response I shared above.

2.)Defense: We may turn the feedback onto the messenger and deny the accuracy of the feedback. This is a pretty common ‘defense’ mechanism.  This method hinders us from improvement.

3.) Ask for clarification:  If the feedback you received is vague, consider asking “Would you help me understand x of what you shared?” This shows that you are ready to understand and take action.

4.) Thank:  If you found the feedback to be helpful, thank the messenger.  “Thank you for letting me know.  I plan to do x, y or z. to rectify the situation.”

Recently, I have been researching the topic of feedback.

Here are some of the quotes that have stood out to me from various authors:

“Sadly, however, there’s almost no one whom we treat as badly as ourselves.” – Kristin Neff

“Recently, a team of psychologists was able to make feedback 40% more effective by prefacing it with just 19 words:

“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”   – Adam Grant 

Susan Scott from her book “Fierce Conversations” describes the most important element of giving feedback below –

“A fierce conversation is one in which we come out from behind ourselves into the conversation and make it real.” – Susan Scott

Kristin Neff in her book “Self – Compassion” provides perspective on dealing with mistakes and the negative feedback that encompasses.

“Everybody makes mistakes at one time or another, it is a fact of life.  And if you think about it, why should you expect anything different?  Where is that written contract you signed before birth promising that you’d be perfect, that you’d never fail, and that your life would go absolutely the way you want it to.”

Remember, constructive feedback is merely a tool to help you improve and be more effective.  Feedback is not an attack on your value as a professional.

In the book “Resiliency Advantage” author Al Siebert states the following:

“If your self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-concept are strong, your view of failure (feedback) is about the ineffectiveness of your current actions as useful information about where to focus to become more effective.” 

A leader must use feedback as a tool.  Feedback can provide a breakthrough for a struggling employee.  Feedback can also allow you to be more effective as you continue to pursue your vision.