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Emotional StrengthProfessional Strength

The Nature of Feedback

By September 15, 2020September 18th, 2020No Comments

Has your company cut the budget for training, communications and employee engagement due to the pandemic?

You might want to reconsider. Cutting these items may seem like a good way to tighten the purse strings during a business contraction, but you may be doing long-term damage to your company culture.

Your employees are your lifeblood, and cutting the very tools you need to maintain and improve productivity, stability and profitability is counterproductive. If anything, you need to increase spending on these aspects of your business.

Uncertainty creates enormous stress and morale issues among your employees, and your team needs more hands-on attention to reduce anxiety and confusion. And the lack of face-to-face communication while employees are working from home exacerbates underlying problems that may have previously existed.

If you’ve already made these budget cuts, here are some yellow-light caution signals that you should watch for among team members. If you detect these signals – or if existing problems get worse – it’s time to take action.

Negative Feedback

Feedback is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to motivate behavior and refine performance. As leaders, it is our responsibility to help others grow and thrive by giving timely and actionable feedback. Furthermore, we have to remain open to receiving feedback if we want to grow as an individual, and that includes the good, the bad and even the ugly. For most of us, handling positive feedback is easy and exhilarating. In contract, processing potentially negative things about yourself can be a bit more challenging. Likewise, delivering negative feedback to others can feel equally uncomfortable. Studies indicate, however, that 90% of the workforce is hungry for all types of feedback and considers it a driving force behind performance improvement. If feedback in the form of constructive criticism is such a powerful performance tool, why does it feel so awkward to navigate?

What happens in our brain when we receive criticism?

Pause for a moment and reflect on a time you either received negative feedback or simply anticipated it. Did your nerves kick in? Maybe your heart rate sped up or your palms began to sweat. Maybe you prepared for a fight, whereby you immediately created a self-justifying narrative to counter any anticipated negative comments headed your way? If you can relate to any of these emotional reactions, then it turns out you’re 100% human.

Here’s the deal, our brain is hard-wired to protect us. More specifically, our brain tries to protect us from the threat it perceives to our place in the social order of things (humans have a deep-seated need to be accepted by the proverbial “pack”). When we are negatively critiqued, our primitive brain registers a primal fear that we risk exclusion from the “pack”. Our primitive brain instantly identifies with the notion that elimination from the pack could equate to death. In turn, our brain views criticism as an actual threat to our physical survival

Consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At first glance, we might assume that negative feedback primarily impacts our self-esteem or self-actualization, causing an immediate loss of confidence in our abilities, preventing us from becoming that person we have the potential to be. 

Yet, the impact of criticism on our self-esteem and self-actualization takes a back seat to the primitive threat it poses to our physical survival. Since our brain sees criticism as such a primordial threat, we initially register negative feedback with belonging and safety, much more basic and foundational in terms of our overall needs.

Developing healthy feedback modes...

Although our emotional reactions to criticism are derived from our primitive brain (our “fight or flight” survival instincts), evolution is in our favor! We can use this knowledge to leverage our complex brain which maintains the capacity to manage emotional information in such a way that helps us think critically, act wisely, and evolve as high performing leaders in today’s global market.

First, it is imperative that we acknowledge, appreciate, and embrace the notion that every single one of us is hard-wired to shy away from both giving and receiving criticism. Once we tackle this first step (which is monumental), there are a number of ways we can prepare ourselves to effectively give and receive negative feedback in the future. By developing healthy feedback modes, we can get comfortable with the uncomfortable nature of giving and receiving negative feedback.

Healthy Receive Mode

Want significance more than just success

  • Teach and be teachable. 
  • Revel in learning, which is often a product of failure. 
  • Don’t think that being authentic, honest, and openly cognizant of your limitations is a handicap or a limitation; treat it as an asset.

Practice Self-awareness

  • Accept yourself and your many good qualities, as well as your limitations, recognizing that others also have good qualities and are equally valuable. 
  • Review your actions against the language of pride – were those actions selfish/pretentious/arrogant?

Invite feedback often

  • Actively seek feedback and behave in a way that incentivizes teammates to give you more feedback.

Learning is a passion

  • Aim to improve your knowledge base as much as possible. 
  • At the dawn of a new day, consider it a brand-new opportunity to enhance your knowledge and learn something new. 
  • Channel your drive and ambition toward the process of learning, not the outcome of achieving (status, prestige, rank, pay, fame, etc.).

Persevere through self-confidence

  • Appreciate the notion that setbacks are a part of your current situation, but your current situation is not your final destination. 
  • Be confident in your capacity to persevere.

Seek to eliminate mediocrity and complacency

  • Establish an unbreakable commitment to yourself and continuously review personal standards of excellence. 
  • Compete with the best version of yourself. 
  • Don’t let anyone have a higher expectation for yourself than you do!

Healthy Giving Mode

If you feed-back you must feed forward

  • Since our brain is hard-wired to view criticism as a threat, if you Feed-Back (highlight something in the past that was off-track) you must also Feed-Forward (provide actionable guidance to modify the behavior in the future). 
  • Solely reiterating past events or critiquing past performance not only compromises the integrity of the future-oriented nature of forward focused feedback but threatens the ability for an employee to develop professionally, effectively accomplish future objectives, and ultimately achieve company targets.

Address the behavior instead of attacking the person

  • Address the facts and work to develop a practical and applicable way ahead.

Before you feed… consider your motives

  • Reflecting on your intentions for providing negative feedback.
  • Consider the gravity of the feedback and any potential secondary or tertiary consequences of poorly delivered (or inaccurately interpreted) feedback. 
    • Are you in an elevated mood? 
    • Is the recipient in an elevated mood? 
    • Is there real value added to the employee or the collective by providing the feedback? 
    • Could the feedback lead to a formal complaint in anyone’s personnel file? 
  • In a profession full of individuals who care so deeply about their work, it is easy to get emotionally charged.

Take time to acknowledge, appreciate, and embrace the notion that every single one of us is hard-wired to shy away from both giving and receiving criticism. However, by developing healthy feedback modes, we can become more comfortable with the powerful, pivotal yet uncomfortable nature of giving and receiving negative feedback.