If you are anything like me, critical feedback is something that I don’t find overly difficult to give, but something I have difficulty receiving.
I like to tell myself that the aversion to negative feedback is simply a natural defensive mechanism, my brain being protective of my identity and perhaps to some extent it is. As humans, our brains react more severely to negative stimuli than we do to a positive phenomenon. This is referred to as the negativity bias which, in a professional setting, can be deemed irrational as the person taking the time to provide the feedback is doing so largely for your benefit.
My rational side understands the necessity of feedback, particularly for personal and professional development. I can see how improvement cannot happen without change and change cannot happen without a realisation of the need to change. Yet how can I reconcile the rational with the irrational?
Receiving feedback can essentially be broken down into two parts – accepting and acting. We all need the ability to be open and receptive to feedback, regardless of the nature of it, as well as the skills to enable us to take action or adopt changes. The necessity of accepting feedback can be explained through the Johari Window theory that was first developed in the 1950s. It’s comprised of for quadrants; open, blind, hidden and unknown. The theory states that as the open spot expands the ability to cooperate increases, as does the productivity and effectiveness of the relationship. Therefore, as we increasingly accept feedback, the open spot increases as the blind spot decreases. In a practical sense, this means our self-awareness increases as does our ability to develop, change and improve.
My first tip for receiving critical feedback is to ask for it; this is important for a number of reasons. By asking for critical feedback you are, in many ways, preparing yourself to receive the criticism, the negativity will not affect you as strongly as it would without being invited, effectively minimising the impact of the negativity bias. Additionally, it signals to the giver that you are open to criticism, allowing for a more honest and constructive conversation.
When it comes to unrequested feedback my advice is to take a moment to evaluate your reaction to the feedback. Although your initial reaction may be along the lines of hurt, frustration or anger, accepting these feelings and evaluating their validity will give you the opportunity to reason with yourself and be more receptive to the feedback. Also, take a moment to consider why you are receiving the feedback and what the drivers behind the person providing the feedback are. This will allow you disentangle impact from the intent and reconcile the irrational with the rational.
Finally, feedback is largely irrelevant if the recipient doesn’t act on the feedback. Feedback should be treated as a gift, an opportunity to grow your open spot and develop greater effectiveness. Acting on the feedback can develop a continual improvement mindset and increase your personal effectiveness.
If you would like further information or assistance with critical feedback, TMS has a range of services available from coaching to facilitation and the expertise to help you achieve greater personal effectiveness.