How do you feel when you hear the words “Do you mind if I give you some feedback?” Are you filled with excitement and curiosity or an impending sense of foreboding and doom?
Most of us will experience the second reaction. Why is this the case? The world of neuroscience is now helping us understand why we respond the way we do to feedback, and interestingly, it is also showing us that giving feedback can be just as challenging for us.
So what is feedback and why does it matter?
Feedback is a source of valuable information. It’s a way of finding out how we’re doing from the perspective of others. It can help us get back on track if we’ve veered off and it provides us with recognition of what we’re doing well. It also helps us measure our progress towards goals and outcomes.
Feedback clearly has value, but how do we build our capacity to seek and receive it to allow us to obtain maximum benefits from it? Below are 5 tips to help:
Tip 1 – Understand Your Brain
Physiologically, there is a lot happening in response to “Do you mind if I give you some feedback?”
- Our heart rate increases
- We feel tension and start bracing ourselves for the worst
- We produce stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol
These physical reactions impact our ability to think clearly. If we understand what is happening from a brain perspective, however, we can take conscious action to manage how we approach feedback and our responses to it.
We know from Neuroscience that the main job of our brain is to keep us safe (Dr Evian Gordon 2000). We also know that, as humans, we have evolved to be 5 times more aware of danger and threat than pleasure or reward (Prof. Roy Baumeister 2001). This ‘negativity bias’ means that our brains instinctively default to the negative and assume the worst. We think the feedback is going to be critical of us and our limbic emotional brain is triggered leaving us in no position to objectively evaluate and process what is being said.
Our survival instinct is kicking in to protect us, but when we are being flooded with emotions, we do not have access to our best thinking. The good news is we now know that our reactions are normal and they can be managed to help us gain the benefits of feedback.
Tip 2 – Gain Perspective and Get Curious
Feedback involves someone sharing their perspective. It’s easy to view feedback that is critical as a personal attack, but a powerful way to gain perspective is to step back, take a deep breath and acknowledge that this is about one aspect of your performance, not your identity as a person. Other people may have different views – this is only one.
Get curious about their perspective – what have they observed? You are entitled to understand their feedback message in full so ask questions such as ‘What are the facts as they see them’? ‘What do they see as the impact of your actions and behaviour and what do they expect you to continue to do or do differently as a result’?
Remember that sharing feedback is likely to be hard for them too! Research* has shown that giving feedback creates more anxiety for the giver than for the receiver. Aim to avoid interrupting, justifying or defending and listen to make sure you are understanding clearly what is being shared.
*West and Thorson, New York University
Tip 3 – Ask for Feedback
Neuroscience is showing us that having a sense of control is important to us. Feedback is perceived as less of a threat when we ask for it ourselves. It puts us in the driver’s seat and means we are less likely to feel threatened. We are also giving permission for people to be critical of us, and as a result, we are likely to get feedback that is more honest and constructive.
To help the giver provide the information we are looking for, we need to ask for specific feedback using open questions (that begin with what, how, which, etc.) For example, “how was the pace of delivery in my presentation?” or “how well did I cover the customer benefits?”
It is also useful to seek feedback from a variety of sources to obtain a balance of views.
Tip 4 – Ask Questions for Clarity
You have a right to receive clear feedback. Unfortunately, most people are not taught to provide feedback* and their input can leave us confused and even more anxious. If the feedback is unclear, ask for specifics and probe until you understand the information that is being shared. For example, you can ask someone to expand on a particular point or check in by asking “If I am understanding you correctly, you are saying XXX, is this correct?”
Tip 5 – Depersonalise the Feedback
You can choose your perspective and make a conscious decision to view this particular feedback in a positive light, either as a pointer to get you back on track or propel you further forwards.
One way to depersonalise the feedback you are receiving and help you listen to it less defensively is to imagine you are listening to a review of a new restaurant or movie instead of your own performance. This will help reduce any negative emotional response you may experience from what is being said.
You can also consciously bring your thinking brain online and remind yourself of your strengths and the things that you do well to provide some balance if the feedback is critical.
Finally, remember –
Feedback is subjective – different people will offer differing perspectives in the same situation. You don’t have to agree with what is being said, but you can respect the person for making the effort to offer the feedback. Thank the giver for the time and effort he/she put into it and acknowledge and own what you perceive is accurate and true.
Remember – it is always up to you to decide what to do with the feedback. Use the 5 Tips we share to help you listen and understand it and take some time to consider the consequences of both ignoring or accepting the feedback you receive.
*we help people give feedback effectively and develop their Coaching skills in our People Leader as a Coach Program