The following is based on a presentation from Sheila Heen, one of the authors of the classic bestseller Difficult Conversations.
In any exchange of feedback between giver and receiver, it’s the receiver who’s in charge.
It’s the receiver who decides what they’re going to let in, what sense they’re going to make of it and whether and how they choose to change.
Research suggests that if we could get better at this it would make a huge difference.
Research shows that people who go out and solicit negative feedback actually have faster career growth.
By that we mean they are not just fishing for compliments, they’re looking for what they can improve. Those people report higher work satisfaction they adapt more quickly in new roles and they get higher performance reviews.
This suggests that if you get better at handling everybody’s feedback for you it doesn’t just change you it changes how other people see you and experience you.
I invite you to think about a piece of coaching or suggestion or advice that you’ve received in your life that you’ve rejected.
I want to ask you why you didn’t take it.
Just think about that for a moment. I mean maybe it was just wrong, it was bad advice. Maybe you didn’t trust the person giving it to you. Maybe you were actually unaware you cared about their opinion which was unsolicited. Maybe it was confusing or you weren’t even sure how and whether you could change in that way. Maybe it was just too upsetting.
Getting better receiving feedback does not obligate you to take the feedback.
In fact there are reasons why often we need boundaries because other people’s views of us can undermine our sense of self.
Sometimes the problem actually is that we usually decide to soon. As human beings we are incredibly good at something that we call “wrong spot”.
When feedback is incoming I’m scanning it because I need to figure out what’s wrong with it.
Who gave it to me, what they’re suggesting, why they’re probably giving it to me where they gave it to me. You’re telling me that – at my grandmother’s funeral, seriously!?
Because if i can find something wrong with it – wow I can set it aside and relax and go on with my life.
If it’s right I have to keep worrying about it.
So we’re incredibly sensitive to decide right away whether the feedback is right or wrong.
Now the fact that you have a triggered reaction isn’t the end of the story.
It’s actually the beginning because here’s the problem – you are always going to be able to find something wrong with your feedback.
Ninety per cent of it might be wrong but that last ten per cent might be just what you need to grow.
Researchers who have looked at the hundreds and in fact thousands of reasons and reactions that we have to feedback have found that actually they boiled down really to three and so there are three kinds of triggered reactions that human beings have all over the world to the feedback that they get.
The first is what we call truth triggers.
This has everything to do with is the feedback correct? Is it accurate? Is the advice good advice?
Truth triggers are tricky to figure out, partly because of the challenges to see what the givers trying to tell you and the challenges to see yourself accurately. Because we all have blind spots.
Actually I don’t have blind spots but I know that you guys all have blind spots, right?
Second kind of trigger is the relationship triggers.
All feedback lives in the relationship between giver and receiver and often we have a bigger reaction – who’s giving it to us – than what they’re saying.
Conquering this trigger has to do with the challenge of “We”. To separate the “who” from the “what” and to deal with each on its own merits
The identity triggers has everything to do with your emotional reaction to the feedback and the story you tell about what it says about who you are.
What the research suggests is the individual sensitivity to feedback, back by which I mean how far you swing emotionally in the wake of feedback and how long it takes you to recover, individuals can vary by up to three thousand percent.
Psychologists like Marty Seligman estimate that our reactions to events in our lives are based about fifty percent on genetic inherited wiring factors. This is just the way you’re built emotionally.
About forty percent based on the story you tell about what happens and only ten percent based on the actual circumstances of your life.
Who knows whether these are exactly the right numbers but it does suggest that in that fifty percent and forty percent there is a lot of play to manage identity triggers more effectively.
Research findings suggest the idea that each of us lives at some baseline degree of happiness or contentment in our life. Individual events will knock you off your baseline and one direction or another but you’re going to gravitate back toward that baseline.
This based partly on looking at lottery winners in the UK. About a year after they won the lottery they’re about as happy or unhappy as they were before they won. Also people with spinal cord injuries to become paraplegics about a year to a year and a half later they’re about as happy or unhappy as they were before.
Let’s imagine that the scale is one to 10.
I mean there are people who live their lives at nine. Do you know these people? They’re unbelievably excited thrilled about everything in their life. It really does not matter if it’s big like winning that account or small like making cup of coffee and they’re really kind of annoying. They show a lot of resilience. because nothing can get them down.
Others of us live at two or three, always just content. A little restless, seeing the glass half empty
Why does this matter for feedback? It matters because if you live lower on the scale, it affects how you take in positive feedback.
It means that the volume is turned down it doesn’t give you the same emotional balance that gives other people.
So if you’re someone who says I just don’t get why people care about appreciation for positive feedback what’s the big deal, it could be because they just live at a higher baseline than you do.
There are two factors at play here.
One is swing- how far do you get knocked off your baseline by feedback in one direction or another? The other is sustained recovery – how long does it take you to come back and this is what I was talking about when I was talking about differences being up to three thousand percent.
Even inside your own family and certainly inside your work team we’re all giving and receiving feedback. We’re doing it to each other right now.
Imagine you and I are on the same team we get some negative feedback from the client.
You’re devastated I think it’s not that big a deal.
This leads me to tell you like okay like you need to not take it so personally like you’re kind of overreacting to this. You’ve just got to get a thicker skin if you’re going to be in this business.
Does this help you?
No, because now I’m just giving you feedback about how you take feedback which is really not helping. So understanding your profile can help you understand your own reaction.
There are challenges that either end of the spectrum. If you are very sensitive to feedback, one piece of feedback can suddenly become everything and now can become forever.
The feedback becomes super-sized and you can fall into what we call the Google bias. The Google bias is as if you are googling everything that is wrong with me. By the way you get 300 million hits if your goggled that.
All of your past mistakes all of your failed relationships come rushing to the fore, there are sponsored ads here from your father and your ex, right and it seems that nothing you have ever done has been right then we call this the bias because your search results are they are driven by your search terms. You’re not googling “things I’m handling relatively well” if you were you get under 20 million hits and you start to have a more balanced picture.
In the depths of the Google bias you cannot learn, you’re just too overwhelmed. You’ve got to not hide under the covers and hope the feedback goes away but dismantle those distortions so that you can see the feedback at actual size and learn from it.
On the flip side, being insensitive to feedback or perhaps I should say under sensitive, one thing that happens is that you don’t even realize people are trying to give you feedback.
They say “you know Bill does it this way”, you’re like “Good for Bill”.
Another thing that can happen is even when you get it like you understand “Okay this is something you want me to work on”, I think “I agree with it I’m totally going to work on that” it may not stick in memory because memory is highly correlated with emotion and if you don’t have an emotional reaction to the conversation you have the best intentions in the world but a week later you forgot about it. Six months later they say you know we talked about this, and you’re like “oh right we did didn’t we sorry”.
The third thing that can happen if you are under sensitive is that you can be too quickly dismissive of feedback. There is kind of an interesting pattern on how we do this.
Say that people give you feedback that you’re aloof or overbearing or intimidating.
You think well that’s just not true because I know what’s true is I’m just shy or outgoing or I have high standards. Both of these things by the way can be true.
We’re describing ourselves as we know ourselves from the inside based on our good intentions but well-intentioned people have bad impact on others all the time and this is still a problem that we probably need to address if you’re a leader or a spouse particularly one who would rather not become an ex-spouse.
Ask for one thing.
What’s one thing I’m doing or maybe that I’m failing to do what you think is getting in the way.
What’s one thing I could change about how I run our weekly meeting that you think would be an improvement.
What’s one thing I could change that would make a difference to you in our friendship?
Notice I’m not asking is there anything – you’re assuming there’s one thing because by the way if you don’t know what you need to be working on as a leader or a parent you know who knows?
They have a list it’s a secret list of all the things you do that drives them crazy and make it harder for them to do their job or be your child.
So when you ask them this they’re going to have an answer. It’s like in fact they have been carrying it around with them. And by the way, a couple days later they’re going to come back with a second thing that they actually thought of that they wish they would have said. So you might get one thing or two things but you get something specific and you get something that’s worth considering or at least discussing.
None of this is easy because whatever your triggered reaction is to the feedback you get, there is a true that the core of this that we can’t get around.
This is that feedback really sits at the junction of two core human needs.
On the one hand we do want to learn and grow and on the other there is the need to be accepted and respected and loved the way we are now.
The very fact of feedback suggests that how we are now is maybe not ok.
The people around you closest to you want a few more upgrades to who you are and yet while this helps me explain my conflicted relationship with feedback.
Sometimes it’s exhilarating, it’s a great source of joy it’s also some of the most painful things in our lives and yet how many of you would say that some of the most important things you learned in life have come from some of your most painful experiences.
Looking to increase your skills on giving and receiving feedback?
Enrol in MACRO’s next workshop at http://www.macrorecruitment.com.au/index.php?category=3§ion=105