Article by Nina Blicher, Global Director Talent Development at Webgains
‘Never Stop Learning‘ is one of our core values here at Webgains. If anything it’s this value that underpins my role so it is extremely important to me in particular. And it’s not just a phrase, it’s something our team lives day to day. It’s training sessions from experts, shared digital knowledge resources, help resources for our clients, affiliate tips and tricks shared to our network, and of course, it’s feedback too.
Never Stop Learning’ is one of our core values here at Webgains
Feedback is all around us. It’s in the responses we get from our clients, our colleagues, our friends, our children, and our partners. We give and receive so much feedback every day that most of the time we don’t even recognise it. Often, the only time we pause to give extra thought to it is when it is crystallised in our performance reviews or in our 1-2-1s with our managers.
With positive feedback there is less confusion. Of course, everybody loves positive feedback – it makes us feel good in the knowledge that we are doing things right and it naturally encourages us to do more of these right things. Indeed, research shows that positive feedback yields better results than negative feedback, and the best way to help someone improve their skills and develop is to have a ratio of 5/1 of positive feedback.
Research shows that positive feedback yields better results than negative feedback
But what about the difficult feedback? The feedback we get when someone thinks we’re not doing the right thing? The kind of feedback that sticks out and has the most has most potential to cause trouble?
Leadership courses will often focus on how to deliver constructive feedback to help grow and develop the person receiving it: It should be specific, anchoring in recent events, so the receiver understands the context. It should explain the impact of the behaviour so the receiver understands why they are being asked to change their behaviour. Finally, it should focus on actions to do going forward so the receiver understand what to do instead. With this model we can reasonably ensure that the person will grow and develop from the feedback we’re giving them.
This is indeed a great model for delivering feedback, so why does it not always work? And what happens to all the other feedback we give and get which is not delivered in such a clear way?
The glaring omission in this equation is of course the receiver of the feedback. If the recipient doesn’t take it the right way, feedback, no matter how well delivered, will always fail.
If the recipient doesn’t take it the right way, feedback, no matter how well delivered, will always fail.
When we look into the reasons why feedback is rejected, we find three main triggers[i]:
Truth. The feedback is simply wrong, or the giver does not know the full picture, so we reject it.
Relationship. The feedback giver is in no position to give us the feedback. Maybe they’re a total stranger, maybe they’re in a completely different team, or perhaps they’re much worse themselves at the very thing they’re now criticising us for. So, we reject the feedback.
Identity. The Identity trigger goes off when the feedback challenges how we perceive ourselves. How can they say I’m condescending? I’m trying to be clear and helpful.
With our “fight or flight” mode now activated, the feedback is rejected before we get a chance to understand it. Furthermore, we now feel dejected and less motivated.
These triggers are natural. They stem from our very basic ned to be accepted as who we are. But they are also a hindrance if we want to grow and develop.
So how do we deal with difficult and triggering feedback?
The first thing to do is to take a step back and remember the power of a growth mindset. With a growth mindset we focus on how we can improve our skills and talent. Significantly, we recognise that challenges, mistakes, and criticism are key inspirations for improvement. With a growth mindset, failing at something doesn’t mean we can’t do it. It means we can’t so it yet. It means we’re up for learning how. It means we’re always trying to get better.
With a growth mindset, failing at something doesn’t mean we can’t do it. It means we can’t so it yet. It means we’re up for learning how. It means we’re always trying to get better.
Taken this way feedback – even when triggering or just plain wrong – allows us to learn from other people. If the feedback is indeed wrong or we do not agree with it, we must still accept that the feedback was the opinion of the giver. Maybe it held no learning value to us other than the lesson that different things work for different people. This is hardly ground-breaking news, but still useful to keep in mind. If my message didn’t come across as intended to this one person, who else might not get it?
The next thing we must do is to identify the triggers. Separate data and fact from interpretation and opinion to keep the truth trigger in check. Disconnect the person from what is said if you’re triggered by the relationship. Consider if the feedback exposes any of your blind spots if you feel the Identity trigger. We ALL have blind spots and by the very nature of blind spots we can only find out about them through the feedback of others.
We ALL have blind spots and by the very nature of blind spots we can only find out about them through the feedback of others.
We will then be better equipped dig a bit deeper to understand the intention and context in which it was delivered. Ask questions to get the feedback framed in the model Specific – Impact – Forward Focussed mentioned at the beginning. Thank them for the feedback and let them know you will consider it. Find the learning hidden within and embrace the opportunity to learn and grow from it.
Finally, don’t leave it to just receiving feedback. To continue improving our skills we must actively seek feedback. Next time you have completed a particular task, ask: “What is one thing I could improve?”
[i] Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen