Do We Really Love Feedback?

We all know we’re supposed to love feedback. Mostly, we’re trying to convince ourselves this is true when we offer, “I appreciate feedback—especially the constructive kind. It helps me grow.” 

Good words, but you’re not convincing any of us, much less yourself. 

Imagine your boss drops you a message that reads, “Let’s connect at the end of the day. I’ve got some feedback for you.” 

Be honest, what’s the first thing running through your mind? 

Chance are, it’s “What did I do wrong?” 

And, no matter how secure you are about your performance, a bit of anxiety just took up residence in your mind. You’re distracted by the idea of receiving feedback, and frankly, you wish you could get it over with and get back to focusing on doing great things. 

I run the above scenario by coaching and workshop clients, and I’ve not yet heard someone say, “Great, I can’t wait to hear what the boss has to say about my performance.” 

How the Brain Treats the Idea of Feedback

Imagine you’re taking a stroll on the African savanna, and suddenly you come face-to-face with a lion. Most of us go from calm to frightened immediately. Well, the same brain response you might experience with the lion is triggered when the boss summons you for some out-of-nowhere feedback.

We’re hard-wired to respond to threats with a fight or flight response. And while the boss/lion scenario isn’t entirely equivalent, our brain’s fear center doesn’t differentiate between the two situations. It just sees “threat” and goes about making us drunk on adrenaline.

The idea of receiving feedback—particularly the constructive kind—is a potential threat to our view-of-self. We see ourselves in one way, and lo and behold, someone comes along and attempts to burst our bubble. Cue the defend mode.

The idea of giving feedback generates as much or more anxiety for the giver. My informal research in programs suggests that almost every manager has deliberately delayed or ignored giving feedback because the fear of the encounter exceeded the guilt over postponing it. For many of my executive coaching clients, the situation is no different. One CEO offered, “I wish I could get better at these conversations. I worry about how much money and performance I’m leaving on the table by avoiding the tough discussions.” 

It Gets Worse! We Don’t Like People Who Give Us Constructive Feedback

Yes, I know we are all supposed to run around being open to feedback on our performance and diligently doling out feedback across the team. But not only do our brains struggle with it—giving and receiving—it turns out, we don’t like people who burst our bubbles and challenge our view-of-self.

As described in Harvard Business Review, Paul Green, a doctoral candidate, and two of his colleagues conducted a study on negative feedback that showed that “critical appraisals from colleagues drove employees to adjust their roles to be around people who would give them more positive reviews.

Green goes on to say: “What we see in the data is that current feedback systems trigger this reaction of constructing a surrounding group that will protect us from experiencing critical input.

Long story short, we avoid people who give us negative feedback.

It’s Time for You to Take Control of Your Feedback Situation

We all can benefit from the right type of specific, behavioral, task, or situational-focused feedback. None of us have an entirely accurate view of our gaps or strengths. Thank the brain, yet again. 

We all need help getting better, whether it’s moving from good to great or great to greater. Quality feedback delivered with a focus on behaviors that tie to business performance can and should be a part of our on-going development. 

The Bottom-Line for Now

The issue is how to take control of feedback and wield it carefully and appropriately for mutual gain in the workplace. In part 2 of this series, I share some specific actions you can take to harness the potential of quality, timely feedback, and a robust feedback culture on your team. 

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p.s. So many people have reached out to me for help with challenging feedback situations, that I’ve designed, and will run a Feedback Skills Bootcamp during the mornings of 11/18/20 or 12/9/20 (you pick one).

In a couple of fast-moving hours, I will help you move from good to great by sharing tools and approaches to design and manage quality feedback discussions. We’ll run some roleplay activities in breakouts, and you will leave with a treasure trove of resources to support your continuous improvement. The best news is I’m pricing this at just $97 per participant to match the times. Learn more and register.