I co-led a workshop today on the topic of receiving feedback. I was reminded of the many ways I’ve made it difficult for people in my past to give me feedback. (I can’t tell you how many times my mom told me that she’d like to “wipe that smirk off my face.”)
Most leaders want to learn how to give feedback more effectively, but they don’t realize that if they’re not great at receiving feedback, the feedback they give likely won’t be well received either.
And here’s the deal, we are wired not to receive feedback well. We all do subtle little things that make it hard for someone to give us feedback. We roll our eyes, cross our arms, we don’t listen, or we interrogate the giver of feedback as if we’re with the CIA.
And why is that?
Well, feedback often puts us into an emotional social-threat state. An emotional threat is described as an incident that forces us to change the perspective of who we think we are. Or who think another person thinks we are.
It sounds like, “Oh, man, you just gave me this feedback, and now I don’t know if I’m right for this job or this relationship. I don’t think I’m ever going to get this.”
“Oh, wow…I thought you liked me and that I am competent, and now you’re telling me I’m not?! Or that my dinner sucks?”
And what happens when we’re in a social threat? Researchers have found that the same area of our brain lights up as when we experience physical pain.
Our system learns how to avoid physical pain. We don’t put our hands on hot stoves, we wear helmets when we’re riding bikes, and if you’re like me, you don’t go on roller coaster rides anymore because they make you sick just thinking about them.
And just like learning how to avoid physical pain, we do our darndest to avoid emotional pain. And someone giving us feedback can feel like emotional pain, especially if the giver is not great at delivering that little nugget of “gold.”
And so, even though we say we want feedback, that we want to learn and grow when it comes right down to it…we can resist the hell out of receiving feedback.
We can often react quite strongly to feedback too. Have you ever had a reaction to feedback that surprised you? You got angry, or you broke down in tears…or you got so quiet that you could hear the electric current running through your home?
Sadly, those are normal human reactions. They’re not healthy, but they do make us normal. Guy Winch, author of “Emotional First Aid,” shares that our instinctual responses to emotional pain can cause us more pain.
We lash out; we try to numb the pain; we isolate; we try to make the other person wrong.
None of these things make us feel any better in the long run. And in many cases, they can end up exacerbating the pain and keep the wounds fresh.
So, what can we do?
While receiving feedback, you can practice staying open to it and becoming conscious of the behaviors that get in the way of the conversation being a helpful dialogue for both of you.
I like to remind myself while receiving difficult feedback – “I am safe. I’m okay. I’m present to what’s right here in front of me.”
And afterward, when you feel the sting of painful feedback, give yourself a dose of self-compassion. Talk to yourself like you would a good friend; there’s no need to shame yourself or belittle yourself even more. It might sound something like this…
“Deanna, that was tough to hear. I know you’re feeling hurt and maybe even a little scared right now, and that’s okay. You’re safe. There might be something in that feedback that is helpful for you, but right now, take a moment to breathe.”
If you’re in a relationship with another human being, you are going to get feedback. How you choose to receive it can help the relationship grow or shut it down so that everyone starts walking on eggshells.
I’ve been in eggshell relationships both at work and at home. They’re no fun.
I’d love to hear from you; what’s your default behavior that makes giving you feedback difficult? And what would you like to try to make it just a tad easier?