Feedback is a gift

giftBy Paul Clifford

Have you been in a position lately where you wanted to give someone some feedback but you were worried about how they might react?  This is a very common concern but one that hinders our ability to resolve really basic problems, get what we need and enhance important connections with people.  The problem lies at both ends of the feedback chain. Generally people are pretty ordinary at giving and receiving feedback. So what are we doing wrong?


The problem

Giving feedback
  • We often approach giving feedback as ‘you’re wrong, I’m right, here’s what you need to do better next time’. This adversarial approach often gets the receiver’s back up.
  • Before we give feedback we fill our heads with worst case scenarios. “They’ll get really angry, they will blame me and never talk to me again”.  These are dangerous assumptions because they skew our approach.  Fearing the worst we get really nervous and emotional and deliver the message in a defensive way, and what do you know, the receiver gets defensive and this just reinforces our belief that feedback is not a good idea.
Receiving feedback
  • If someone wants to give us feedback we fear the worst. We fear they no longer think well of us, that it’s personal and that even though the feedback might be quite specific, we think it really represents a criticism of our entire way of being.  Sometimes this couldn’t be further from the truth but because we have jumped to such irrational conclusions we are blinded to hearing a message that could be helpful.  Instead we go on the defensive and reject the feedback or attack the messenger.  We’ve missed a golden opportunity to receive feedback as a gift.

So how can we eradicate the self-sabotage that renders the feedback process as a destructive experience as opposed to a positive learning experience?

The solution

Giving feedback
  • Clearly explain your positive intent up-front: this is not a criticism of you as an entire person, you value the relationship and want to improve it; you want to talk about how both of you could approach the issue differently.
  • If it is an important message, you have positive intent, and you are in the right head space to deliver it calmly, then forget about what reactions you might get. If they react badly that is their problem, not yours.  If the message is important it must be said.
Receiving feedback
  • Maintain perspective – feedback is a gift and we have the choice as to what we do with it. If we decide that one piece of specific feedback is actually code for “you are rubbish at everything” then we have made one huge destructive assumption.  We are not very good at keeping things in perspective.  Sometimes we want to believe that someone has been outrageously critical of us so we can blame them and avoid making change ourselves.  If you respond badly to feedback chances are you think there is some truth behind it that you don’t want to face.  In this case there is work you need to do on yourself.  When we respond badly to feedback we make it harder for all of us to solve problems and enhance relationships.

Feedback is a gift that we often tear apart and throw in the bin the moment we lay eyes on it.  Shame if the package contained something that could make a real positive difference to your life.


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