Did you say 'feedback'?

I asked a group of individuals in a performance session recently, what comes to mind when they think about feedback. Check out the responses:

-        Awkward

-        Useless

-        Anxiety

-        Stressful

-        Why bother

-        No resolutions

-        Ticking a box

These individuals have a robust and frequent performance review system in place and yet the comments around feedback was increasingly negative.

Feedback a thing of our past?

Never fear because for most things, there is an evolutionary basis for the way we feel when we hear or think about ‘feedback’. According to Darwin’s writings on evolution, back in the time of the prehistoric human, feedback was a key mechanism in staying alive. Yes, surviving! Our ancestors used it to find purpose and to evolve and grow to adapt to our environment. Realising that to get more food we had to learn to stand is just one of many examples. Or in the modern age, realising that if I don’t know how to drive, I cannot get anywhere.

As humans we rely on feedback from just about most things we engage with. We rely on it from people, technology and the environment. Organic or inorganic, these are crucial elements of feedback and we must accept this to evolve and adapt to our environments as Darwin would say.

The Irony of feedback

Knowing that we require feedback in order to survive, it is interesting that we do not respond well in most cases when receiving it from our fellow humans. In fact, research has shown that when it is given at the wrong time, when it is unsolicited and given from a person we may not trust or particularly like, we respond quite negatively towards it. So, I have come up with a few key things we should consider when giving or receiving feedback:

1.      Control your emotions when giving or receiving feedback

Feedback tends to elicit emotional and physiological responses as our brains can perceive feedback as a threat. This triggers what most of us know as our ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ mechanism. Have you ever heard two people arguing and thought, that makes no sense? Well, you are probably on the right track. Studies have shown that when we trigger our fight or flight mechanism, we lose IQ points, so in the heat of battle we become a little dumber and nobody wins!

2.      Ask for Feedback

Feedback should always be a two-way relationship and by asking for it, we give ourselves more control in the process. Asking your partner; How do I look? Vs them voluntarily telling you how you look will likely elicit very different responses. By asking for the feedback, we are less likely to perceive the response as a threat and therefore more likely to view the experience in a positive light.

3.      Grab the developmental opportunities

As humans, we are geared towards focussing on the negative and for good reason. Studies by John Cacioppo showed that evolutionarily we tended to prioritise negatively to help us avoid harm and again, stay alive! It can be very difficult to focus on the positive stuff when we have biology fighting against us however it can be done. We get what we focus on, so by training ourselves to see the developmental aspects, we are likely to override the negative and take away the good stuff. The ratio is approximately 5 positive things to 1 negative.

Whatever your perceptions are around feedback, it can be a positive thing for you and your people. Sometimes feedback can make us feel uncomfortable however knowing when to grow can start with a bit of uncomfortability.

So be ok with being comfortable with the uncomfortability of feedback!

Blog by Seth Heynes