We all know constructive feedback, like broccoli, is good for you, but most of us find innovative ways to avoid it. Matias Rodsevich, writing for Talent Culture, reviews some of the reasons we find feedback so unpalatable and suggest some ways to get better at “eating our vegetables” at work.
What I learned from this article
- If you hate feedback, don’t feel bad. Our response to criticism is natural and likely evolved as a survival mechanism when the work day included more hunting, gathering and avoiding tigers.
- Your feedback will more likely be accepted by others if you first listen to their explanation of a problem and the challenges they face in fixing it. It’s also best to let them find the solution rather than imposing your own.
- When you receive feedback, remember that your current skills do not define you. You can change them with practice.
- And finally, companies can create a better culture for feedback by giving people a response structure to follow and rewarding those who do.
Avoiding negative experiences probably kept us alive in the long, long past.
Rodsevich sites psychology research that suggests we remember negative experiences more than positive ones, which probably evolved as a survival mechanism. For example, it was very important for early hunter/gatherers to remember which berries made them sick. And further research suggests that even constructive criticism can make someone feel unaccepted by their social group, such as a work team. For those same early survival reasons, we don’t react well to being isolated from others.
Overcome the sense of isolation from feedback by including employees in the conversation and the solution.
But according to research by Zenger/Folkman leadership development consultancy, most people want constructive feedback and have a pretty good awareness of their problems. But they also want to air their opinion of the situation and to solve problems their way.
Looking back at when I’ve received constructive feedback, I remember some skilled leaders who turned feedback into a discussion in which I came up with the problem and solution and my feedback-giver just agreed with me. It never felt like criticism at all, so I never had the negative response to it and I got excellent guidance from the conversation.
Help employees see that they have the power to change their current skill sets.
Referring to Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindsets, Rodsevich suggests that people with fixed mindsets will react defensively to criticism because they view abilities as fixed traits of their personalities. Think of someone who says “I can’t be to meetings on time. That’s just how I am.”
Helping people develop a growth mindset, in which they feel they can change their abilities with some practice, could help turn on the constructive element of feedback. Just helping people become aware of their fixed mindset can get them started toward growth.
Encourage the habit of a positive response to feedback with structure and rewards.
You can also dilute the fearful power of feedback by making it routine. Literally. Habits are consistent responses to cues in your environment. For example, if you always get a coffee on the way in to work, your cue is driving by the same coffee shop every morning. And when you drop in for your cup of joe, you’re rewarded with a lovely morning buzz. So you do it again until it’s second nature. You might even stop at that coffee shop whenever you drive by even if it’s not a work morning.
Companies can help employees develop a habitual response to criticism by training them to use a response structure. When they receive feedback, they can just follow the structure. They get the reward of improving their work performance, or the company can offer tangible rewards for anyone who participates in the feedback process to reinforce the habit.
Rodsevich suggests the following response structure:
- Analyze the feedback,
- Ask questions to better understand
- Thank them
- Strategize ways to improve based on your feedback
- Set goals for yourself based on these strategies
This article has some great strategies for overcoming fear of feedback. Unfortunately, because we react automatically and powerfully to criticism, it’s a hard thing to work yourself out of. Professionals who’ve been getting regular and public criticism for years still have to take time and cool down before they can deal with it properly.
But with these strategies and some focus, you can make feedback much easier to take, like cheese sauce on the broccoli. Yum.
At Pract.us, we’re dedicated to helping turn feedback into a collaborative learning process. Learn more.