Do we all eat breakfast? Or Break-fast? Of course, we do. As Ken Blanchard puts it “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” At the heart of any growth and development, feedback is key. No one is able to grow or develop effectively and efficiently if there is no feedback. Why? A simple answer is in blind spots. Every one of us has our specific sets of blind spots. Areas that we just can’t see and don’t know about. This of course means that we cannot work on an area if we don’t know that it is there and requires improvement.
Simply put, we don’t know what we don’t know. Take an athlete and his training program. It is not a random set of actions that he is takes. Every part of the training program is a result of feedback that is gathered. Data points and expert advice and so on. The aim is to achieve a specific goal as effectively and efficiently as possible through targeted programs derived from various sources of feedback.
This same concept applies to us (mere mortals), in that feedback is essential for our growth. Feedback is therefore not an option. It is not optional if you have a desire for growth. If you have a growth and not a fixed mindset, you will crave feedback and not dread it.
Let’s face it, we are all human and we do not enjoy being in an uncomfortable position or situation. Whether you are the giver or the receiver of feedback, it is uncomfortable. If you are the giver of the feedback, you are probably going to be uncomfortable if the feedback is not taken well, or when there is a pushback or an argument and hurt feelings eventuate from the session. If you are the receiver of the feedback, you are certainly not comfortable if the feedback is negative or not what you want to hear. In fact, you might even be defensive and angry that you would receive such a feedback. Neither, the giver nor the receiver of feedback is achieving what feedback is designed to do.
Feedback is grounded on the intention to help reinforce or rectify a specific behaviour or action. It is meant to help us grow. The heart of feedback is based on the genuine and authentic care for the person. Hence the most valuable and insightful feedback comes from people who care about you and your growth.
There are three reason why we dread feedback:
- Perceived as a personal attack on who you are.
- Reaction that is defensive or retaliatory.
- Not knowing how to ask questions to get the most out of the feedback.
Perceived as a personal attack on who you are.
The first dread element of feedback, it is perceived as a personal attack. Feedback is not about the person but about the actions. It is not attacking the person’s being or value system but about the behaviour or actions. Feedback is not about who but the do. Feedback is not about the person; it is about the actions. Therefore, it is important to remember that it is not about the person but about their actions. It is not a personal attack. Yeah, I know I have repeated myself three times there but it is important that this simple truth sinks in. This mindset change will help you to be open and in fact crave feedback.
When we crave authentic and useful feedback, it will not only help you but also the people around you. Why is that? The benefits for you are obvious but for the people around you? The people around you will know that you are able to distinguish personal from actions. To be able to be objective and not emotionally driven. This will lead to a culture that will seek to encourage and help one another to grow and develop constantly and consistently. The people around you will also appreciate the fact that their feedback is valued and as a team, each member can be co-dependent on one another for growth without feeling uncomfortable about respective vulnerabilities.
Reaction that is defensive or retaliatory in nature.
Second aspect of dreading feedback is when the reaction to receiving a feedback is defensive and retaliatory. No one wants to give feedback to someone who will react defensively and potentially retaliatory when they receive a negative sounding feedback. I have no doubt that we have encountered one or two of those situations. In those situations, probably most people will avoid authentic relationship and will find it hard to be in an environment where trust can be developed. In that context, there will probably not exist any authentic feedback and therefore limited growth or development opportunities.
To receive feedback well, we must be open minded. We must have the mindset to seek to understand first. We should not be formulating our defensive stance or listing down all the reasons as to why someone else is to be blamed and so on. In fact, when you find yourself to be at your most defensive, it is probably the best indicator that you need to listen and listen well. It is probably an area that is most vulnerable for you and therefore an area that you probably need to work on the most.
To help you to slow down and listen, be mindful of how you are physically feeling. For most people, they will feel hot, flushed, ears burning red, flames rising from your head, heart beating faster and so on. All normal responses when we feel threatened. This is when you could take a deep breath or two and pause. Then reframing your mind to “seek first to understand” mindset. Slow down and let your thoughts switch to “This not an attack on who I am but it is about learning how I could improve my actions.”
Not knowing how to ask questions.
A good point to remember is that most people are not well equipped or trained to give feedback. This leads to feedback that is usually very vague or general. Sometimes it is sugar coated too much that we can’t really pinpoint the area that requires the improvement. In order to get the most valuable nuggets out of the feedback, you need to know how to ask questions. To gather specific details, you will need to ask specific questions. Bearing in mind that in any feedback session, it is a rather uncomfortable and sometimes tense environment, it is useful to bear in mind that there are certain types of questions to avoid and certain types of questions to ask.
Good starting point is to ask open and non-threatening questions. Start with “Tell me more” or “help me to understand this further”. This opens the discussion and helps you gather more information. And then you can ask more specific questions to identify specific areas to work on. Try to avoid questions that might be perceived as confrontational such as “Why did you say that?” or “What makes you think that?”.
If you want specific information, then you will need to ask specific questions. For example, a general question like “What feedback have you got for me?”. This is too open and general and the response could be anything that pops into the person’s mind. The response will not be feedback but more of an opinion or comment and this will lead to a lot of work to unpack it to get it to a point of real feedback. It is more effective to ask specific questions in a specific context or area. For example, if you are interested in improvement around time management, you would say something like this “I would like some feedback on time management?”.
Ask specific questions for specific feedback. An example, “What 3 things could I do differently to help me better with time management?” Ask questions that start with What or How will help you gather specific information to help you move forward. Try to avoid asking Why questions as why is a reflective and cyclic in nature. For example, “Why are you late?” “Well, I forgot to turn on the alarm.” “Why did you forget to turn on the alarm” “I was too tired or I don’t know why I forgot” as you can see it does not lead or move the discussion forward.
Application to bring this home.
Where are you on the dread to crave feedback scale? Do you crave or dread feedback? A simple way to gauge where you stand is to start by asking yourself 3 questions:
- What specific skill are you currently developing based on feedback? If you are taking a long time or can’t answer this question, you know that you have work to do in this area.
- Who are the people that you have given permission to give you feedback? Who are the people that have given you permission to give them feedback?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your skill or competency growth over the past 3 or 6 months?
If you find yourself in a position unable to answer those 3 questions, do not despair, start today by answering these questions.
- Who are the people that I am going to give permission to give me feedback?
- What specific questions am I going to ask with regards to specific skills that I want to develop?
- What resources can I use to help me be equipped to be an effective giver and receiver of feedback?
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