Why Does Getting Feedback Suck?

Why Does Getting Feedback Suck?

September 14, 2021
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You may enjoy this short, summary video.

Literature is devoted to how managers should deliver feedback: Creating a context, “feedback sandwiches” (good news, bad news, good news –in that order) and more. But almost nobody considers the other person…the one receiving feedback.

Yet, for every one of us, a time comes when we too get constructive criticism. So, how should we deal with it?

No One Likes It

Hearing criticism can be hard, even if you know it’s coming. It’s even tougher when you are blindsided.

All of us have egos. It’s part of being human. And those egos can easily stick their noses into our minds; usually just in time to screw things up. Between our innate egocentrism and whatever may have happened in our past, hearing criticism can trigger a variety of emotions and responses.

Planning it Advance?

It seems so easy to come up with a script and just use it to play the role of someone open and anxious to hear it. But it’s a rare, mature person who really feels that way.

Try as we might, there are no secrets. Our feeling seep into our ways of being and everyone knows. The person giving feedback may not even know quite what they’re observing –but nonetheless it’s there–leaving residue. That residue can damage how you’re perceived.

Dragging Along the past

As part of that process, it’s a good idea to remember that none of us is a blank slate. Every situation affects each of us differently. So it is with criticism — or accolades. We drag our past with us.

If receiving criticism felt traumatic as a child, it likely still does. If our first job included a tyrannical boss, we may assume all bosses are like that; even if we know consciously that our boss is compassionate and fair. So, when we get a correction–even as an adult– the same narrative kicks in.

When I was a child, my parents sat me down to teach me the “grown up” ways to brush my teeth. My reaction was inexplicable. I recall feeling ashamed — sobbing and wanting to hide. There’s no rational explanation. I felt like this upgrade meant I had been doing something wrong.

For years, it was hard for me to hear actual correction and criticism. And since I spent a lot of time in ballet class, I got a lot of correction! Each time I was shattered.

It’s astonishing that so many of us carry around similar past experiences that have shaped and influenced how we react today.

Making Feedback Useful

Ironically, when we’re trapped in an irrational reaction, we rarely absorb the feedback given us. So, at the same time as valuable feedback is given, we resist it so hard that it falls on deaf ears.

Yet, it can be the greatest contribution to our growth—or it can paralyze us. Knowing your own nature can be helpful in shaping how you respond.

For some of us, criticism can feel mortifying. We are embarrassed by our mistakes. When we’re embarrassed, shame kicks in.

Or, you may feel defensive –sure that the criticism is simply wrong, or that you’ve been somehow misunderstood. When that happens, the feedback feels like an attack. And as in any attack, we fight back.

Some percentage of people can embrace critical feedback, viewing it as valuable for their performance. They are hungry for it in the way that an athlete is hungry for the coach’s input to improve performance.

But, for the rest of us it isn’t natural or easy to hear criticism.

When The Feedback is Positive

Praise can be just as confounding. We hear it through its own past-based experience. We may feel embarrassed or timid. Maybe we believe it is unwarranted. That’s especially true when we’re insecure.

One of my clients frets about “earning her place”. She is a highly accomplished product manager in a super-charged tech start-up. But anytime she stops being in action –even just to think –she suspects she’s slacking off. When she gets kudos for her work it underscores her feelings of guilt, Praise dredges up tons of shame.

How should we listen to feedback and use it? How should we compose ourselves when we get input? Whether peer 360°, performance reviews, day to day input on the quality of work – corrections from a spouse or roommate. It’s all the same to our minds.

Timidity

One largely unmentioned obstacle to feedback is simple shyness. It’s uncomfortable to have the spotlight turned on us. We feel conspicuous and over-exposed. We are vulnerable.

Creating your own empowering way to hear feedback is possible. It starts with noticing what your reflex is. Do you feel hurt, ashamed, defensive, or combatant? There’s some unique thing you say to yourself as those emotions arise. When you hear those words in your mind, they signal you.

That’s the moment to reframe them.

Transforming Experiences

Here are some tips:
1. Remind yourself that like an elite athlete you are hungry for feedback to improve!
2. Think about two future worlds. One in which you used feedback and grew, and one in which you shunned it. Then choose the future you most want.
3. Ask yourself why someone would give you the feedback. It might be a signal of a commitment to you and your growth. Those who are indifferent –well, they’re indifferent.
4. Act like a reporter. Ask questions. Learn about what the feedback means, how it applies and how you can use it to improve. Should you take certain actions? Change your behavior? Take a course? Get really curious!
5. If you’re a founder, executive or HR/people leader, work on developing an entire culture of feedback, in which the whole organization applauds and embraces the notion of ongoing improvement. That only happens through open feedback loops!

You can learn these new ways of thinking and make them habits. Then you will be hungry for feedback and shed whatever resistance you’ve had!

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