“Each person does see the world in a different way. There is not a single, unifying, objective truth. We’re all limited by our perspective.” – Siri Hustvedt
Searching the internet, I couldn’t help but notice that most information about feedback is about the feedback givers, teaching them how to offer feedback, but there’s not enough material on how to receive feedback. In truth, the receiver has all the power (even if it’s not how we usually see it), because feedback can help us improve ourselves.
Imagine what would happen if we would decide to change our perspective by listening and learning from all kinds of feedback we receive, even if they initially sound unfair, inappropriate or are poorly delivered. To do that, we would need a better understanding of how we tend to react first.
It seems to be in our nature to perceive feedback as a judgment and when we suffer we tend to look outside ourselves for the cause and the cure.
Let’s start by understanding what feedback is and what it can do for us.
According to Sheila Heen, co-author of Difficult Conversations and Thanks for the Feedback, “Feedback is our relationship with the world, and the world’s relationship with us”. Feedback sits on the junction of two core human needs: the need to learn and grow and the need to be accepted and respected.
Heen’s books often mention studies’ conclusions about people that request feedback: they seem to have higher adaptability to different roles, higher work satisfaction, and higher performance reviews. Being open to receive feedback can help us acknowledge the areas we can work on and change the way people see and experience us.
If we want to learn from feedback, we should first understand what we’re doing wrong in terms of reactions to feedback and availability to listen and understand what we’re being told. There seem to be three types of reactions that people have all over the world leading them to dismiss feedback.
What we don’t see about ourselves
We seem to question if the feedback we’re receiving is correct or accurate because we challenge what we cannot see about us by concluding that the other person is wrong. Additionally, depending on the emotional impact that the feedback has on us, we may react in an aggressive or defensive manner when we disagree with the way somebody else describes us. Once we tag a feedback as incorrect, we tend to ignore it instead of trying to understand what it is that we don’t see that others do and what got them to such unexpected conclusions. We can do this by asking questions and eventually we may find that many comments and opinions hold truth, but perhaps it was not properly presented to us. Upon sharing this conclusion, both the receiver and the giver could help each other improve.
What we think about the feedback giver
Our reaction to feedback can be caused by lack of trust or dislike for the person delivering it, so another reason to dismiss a feedback is because we don’t like to hear it (or anything else) from a particular person. We have different personalities and approach to communication and conflicts and while some of us prefer to engage, others avoid. However, looking back on our previous experiences, the most valuable lessons can often be learned from difficult situations. Making the choice to learn from people or situations that are not pleasing can open your eyes to ways you can improve yourself.
Trust is the foundation of any relationship. As Patrick Lencioni believes, in a professional environment “the absence of trust will spread like a disease.” We could assume there is good intention behind the feedback, and by being open, paying attention and asking questions we can find out more on how others see us. Paying attention to body language and tone of voice is extremely important when we’re interested in understanding how sincere the other person is.
The impact it has on our values and beliefs
Our individual sensitivity to feedback is another reason to dismiss it. When the feedback is seen as a threat to how we see ourselves, we set it aside because what’s really causing us pain are the criticisms we give ourselves. Moreover, if the message is delivered with poor or no diplomacy, it can generate an identity crisis for people who are already harshly reviewing themselves. We all have a happiness baseline according to Marty Seligman’s studies, and the happier we feel in general, the more open we are to feedback. The sensitivity level has a large influence on the way we are able to receive feedback, and for some people, even the most diplomatic and tactful feedback is perceived as critical. On the opposite pole there are also people insensitive to feedback and so they dismiss it too quickly. This is because emotional reaction to the conversation is vital in order for the feedback to have an impact and they’re simply not touched.
Some people tend to have a bad reaction to feedback because it makes them feel vulnerable. But we can choose to be open and adaptable, as the opposite of vulnerability is the courage to listen and understand even if it’s painful.
Ask for feedback and say “Thank you!”
When we feel underappreciated, we can no longer focus on the feedback that we’re being offered. We can avoid getting into this situation by indirectly asking for feedback more often: “what’s one thing you see me doing or not doing where I’m getting in my own way?” OR “what’s the one thing I could change in our relationship that would make a difference?”
Regardless of the feedback content, we can find the strength to take a deep breath and say “thank you.” Then give it a little time until we’re open to learning from it. We can improve our perception if we find the patience to listen and reframe. A good example was given by Alphonse Karr: “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”
Assuming that there’s a good intention behind every uncomfortable feedback can be very helpful, as what we choose to believe and learn from our interactions with others is either damaging or beneficial and it depends on each one of us. As Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.”
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- A different perspective on feedback - March 19, 2018