You will have heard the saying that feedback is a gift, yet there are times when it doesn’t feel like that.
Recently, I received feedback from two different groups on the same day. One was amazing. The other one was generally good, but there was one particularly nasty piece of feedback from an attendee.
Any guesses as to where my energy went? You guessed it! I spent 10 seconds thinking about the fantastic event and then hours (and hours) ruminating and ruminating on the negative feedback.
It’s a great reminder of three things:
- How our brain is hardwired to focus on the negative
- To recognise that not all feedback carries the same relevance
- The importance of considering the intent and impact of the feedback you share
Let’s start with negativity bias.
Our brain, marvellous as it is, is more attuned to negative events than positive events. Research shows that negative events stimulate us more and produce more rapid responses. This hardwiring is evolutionary. In the past, when we needed to worry about environmental threats (i.e. something coming to kill us and eat us), being more attuned to adverse events was a useful survival tactic.
However, even though we adapt and evolve, this biological response remains. You notice negative stimuli more than positive stimuli and respond more rapidly, emotionally and physically. Consequently, you are more likely to remember negative feedback than positive feedback. You pay more attention to sad and traumatic events than happy ones. In a negative state, you are more likely to interpret someone else’s behaviour towards you as unfavourable.
So how do you get yourself out of a negative spiral? Firstly, it’s about recognising the emotion and noticing that you have been triggered. Once you’ve done that, you can focus on six key elements:
1. Drop the brave face – acknowledge your emotions, accept how you feel and choose what you do next
2. Get deliberate – focus on what you can control and where to direct your energy
3. Embrace the uncertainty – consider your options for experimentation and learning
4. Reframe the game – flip the lense you are using to consider what’s happened and focus on what you are grateful for
5. Give yourself a break – practice self-care and self-compassion, and take time out to connect with others
6. Write your script – drop the comparison game and stay true to your values
You will find other helpful ideas in this Greater Good Science centre article.
As the wonderful Author, Leo Tolstoy reminds us, “If you care too much about being praised, in the end you will not accomplish anything serious“.
Next, consider who is delivering the feedback.
As I’ve written before (Who are you listening to?), when you receive feedback, look at it from two angles:
- What’s the intent of the person providing the advice/feedback? Is it helpful or unhelpful? Good or not so good?
- What’s the skill or experience of the person offering the advice/feedback? Is it high or low in the area where they provide their opinion?
When the feedback is delivered with good intent and from someone with valuable knowledge to share, you want to dig into the learnings and generate your insights.
Many years ago, a well-known Australian talked to me about what she called ‘The forgetery’. It was the place where all unhelpful and useless feedback went.
It is effortless for people to share an opinion or feedback without a lot of thought attached to it.
As researcher Dr Brené Brown talks about, there are millions of people sitting in the cheap seats hurling hurtful opinions and unhelpful commentary. For her, if the person providing the feedback isn’t out there taking risks and being courageous, their feedback isn’t worth listening to.
You want to be wise and selective with the feedback you listen to and that which you ignore. As Author Stephen Covey said, “Feedback often tells you more about the person who is giving it than about you“.
His comment leads to the third area of focus, which is to challenge yourself and consider the nature and type of feedback you provide.
Many years ago, when travelling overseas, Craig and I were asked to provide feedback on our driver. He had been excellent, and when we started to say to him how we would give feedback, he got concerned. We worked out – quickly – that he was worried we were going to be negative. A negative review would mean he would lose his job. In a society with no income security, the loss of his job could lead to him losing his home and not being able to feed his family.
It was a stark reminder that feedback has consequences, and sometimes we may not be aware of them. Our words matter whether they are delivered verbally, in written form, face to face or online.
- Is your feedback intended to help or hinder?
- If the person was standing in front of you, would you use these exact words?
- Does giving the feedback matter?
- Is the feedback genuinely designed to help the person improve or intended to make you feel better about yourself and your experience?
As the author, Yehuda Berg said – “Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”
What will you choose?
Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®
Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The award-winning author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated.