The dread of receiving feedback
I am sitting on a chairlift with a friend. It has dumped 38 inches in the past 48 hours. Life is good. And then I hear the words, “Can I give you some feedback?” Without fail, these words drain the blood from my arms and head while my stomach twists into a knot. My instinctual brain thinks, “Maybe if I curl up as small as possible and don’t move, this situation will go away.” No one enjoys hearing how their personality flaws make people feel uneasy, frustrated, timid, or sad.
Intellectually, I crave feedback. I am on a constant journey to improve how I interact with others and the opportunity to hear how others view my actions is too valuable to be missed. The problem is my instinctual brain thinks otherwise. Alarms are going off in my body to move away from this conversation as quickly as possible. I take a deep breath, helping to reactivate my thinking brain. This is one of the most important moments. It is in this response that my friend will judge my willingness to receive criticism openly. The more willingness I demonstrate, the more open she will be, and the more I will learn. So I remind myself that I actually want this information, and with eager eyes and a smile, I say “Yes, I would love that.”
She jumps in. The goal of this conversation is to get everything that is in her brain into mine. I know intellectually that explaining my past actions, offering a different opinion, or justifying a specific response will limit or abruptly cut off the information transfer. Despite knowing this on an intellectual level, my brain has different ideas. “Her perception is wrong, she doesn’t understand.” “As a leader, I can’t make everyone happy.” “Well, that person was wrong, so the situation had to be corrected.” My brain is a constant churn of excuses and justifications. It is going into full protection mode—“Do not believe what this person is saying. You will get hurt.” I am at another crossroad: I can respond by telling her why I acted the way I did, or I can ask additional clarifying questions. I take another deep breath and remember the goal of the conversation—to get information from her head into mine, not the reverse. I ask for more examples of the behavior she is describing, and I make myself even more vulnerable.
At the end of the conversation, I have mixed emotions. 20% of me is proud of how I handled the conversation. I effectively completed the data transfer. I did not mix the conversation with my own opinions or justifications. While my own opinions will be helpful as I think about how to alter my behavior in the future, they didn’t have a place in this conversation. I also expressed my gratitude for her openly sharing her thoughts, which opened the door for her to do so again in the future.
However, 80% of me felt remorseful. Her feedback hit at the core of my values and how I aspire to interact with others. It was a direct attack on who I am, and that hurt. Unfortunately, this is the cost of receiving feedback effectively. But it is a small price to pay for the information gleaned, and more importantly, for the increased strength of the relationship going forward. These feelings are only temporary, while the benefits of this conversation will last a long time.
See Part II of “Receiving Feedback” for how I used tools to overcome feeling remorseful.
People are typically hesitant to give us feedback.
We can increase the quantity and quality of the feedback we receive by creating the right conditions.
The right conditions facilitate an effective information transfer from the giver to the recipient. If you are the recipient, it is your responsibility to keep the information flowing toward you.
To keep the information flowing toward you, be aware of your emotions. Notice your natural reactions, and use your breath to separate your natural reactions from your response.