Feedback. We dread it. We fear it. We can partly blame our biology for this. From the prehistoric days of fleeing from sabre-toothed tigers, our brains are attuned to protect us from danger. In the present day, our brains are still hardwired to fight back in response to a threat, even if it is just to words.
Just the word “feedback” can be associated with negative feelings for both the person receiving the feedback and the one giving it. This partially is the result of our brains being hardwired to prioritize negative input over positive input. Turns out, bad events are on average five times as powerful as good ones. In other words, we are more likely to recall criticism rather than praise, and we are more likely to give criticism over praise.
Even though our biology seems to have wired our brains to fear feedback, over time and through repetition, we can learn to rewire our perspective of feedback through several steps.
1) Understand the value. Most of us understand the importance of feedback. If we want to see change, we need feedback. If we want someone’s behaviour to change, we need to give them feedback. We cannot expect change, growth, or developing without it. Ironically, we should actually stop fearing feedback conversations, but fear not having them instead.
In the workplace, feedback also helps elevate engagement, motivation, and productivity. The link between effective feedback and productivity has been well established. A Gallup study found that teams with managers who received strengths feedback showed 12.5% greater productivity post-intervention than teams with managers who received no feedback. In fact, feedback is the key to high performance.
2) Assume positive intent. Majority of us don’t give feedback with malicious intent; rather, we give feedback to help. Much like the physiological feedback loops in our body (think of the reflex response when we touch a hot stove), feedback is given to either reinforce or change a behavior. If you are receiving feedback, consider that maybe someone doesn’t want to see you get burned. Simply put, assume positive intent.
3) Think and reflect. If you receive feedback, reflect on it before acting on the feedback. If you are the one giving feedback, reflect on when and how you should give the feedback. If you are still scared of giving feedback, consider the fact that most people know when they should receive feedback. One study conducted by Zenger/Folkman found that 74% of employees who received negative feedback already knew there was a problem. Not only that, a study by Officevibe found that 65% of employees actually want feedback, whether it’s positive or constructive.
4) Learning the skill. Giving and receiving feedback are skills – they need to be developed and practiced. Learning the steps and best practices of giving effective feedback can take some time. Like any skill, practice makes perfect. In the process of giving feedback, don’t be afraid of getting feedback on your feedback.
At the end of the day, feedback will be the driving factor for change. Overcoming the fear of feedback and getting better at giving feedback is a process, but it is one that is well worth the commitment and investment.