Negative feedback can make us bitter or better…you choose.

It’s that time of the year where people are gearing up for Performance Management discussions. And in most cases, either the giver, receiver or both are somewhat apprehensive about feedback conversations. So why do we even need to have them?

Feedback is the fastest way to accelerate learning, guide development and increase engagement. Why then is it the least utilized form of communication in the workplace? It can be boiled down to these three reasons:
The word feedback has a negative connotation, usually associated with criticism or ineffective performance development.
We are biologically wired to avoid conflict and confrontation.
We do not take the time to intentionally practice and use this skill.

Both the giver and the receiver have a responsibility to ensure a feedback conversation is meaningful and hits the mark. But the power lies with the receiver which is where we are going to start.

You can be given the most well-crafted, direct and meaningful feedback but if you choose to disregard, get angry or be resentful you’ve chosen not to do anything with it. Or you can choose to analyze, ask questions and make change. Either way, you have the power to decide what you will do and how you respond.

We talked about why it’s difficult and now let’s get into the solutions to utilize feedback as fuel to create work you love.

#1 – Feedback is simply a conversation. A conversation that has two intentions: To reward positive behavior and redirect undesired behavior. If there is any other motivation it is not feedback. Reminder, a conversation implies two-sided, meaningful conversations include both parties listening and sharing. As the receiver ask questions, get clear on the path forward.

#2 – We are biologically wired to avoid the possibility of harm. Instinctively, we scan all incoming information for what is to be avoided and how can I protect myself? This happens every time we receive feedback. Years ago when we were concerned with becoming prey it was a useful construct, now the only harm that will likely befall us is the fear of being judged by others. It is simply protecting our ego and need for emotional safety. Take a deep breath, we are all wired up to be defensive and not to receive criticism well. The good news, it is possible to override our DNA and re-wire our brains. It takes intention and consistent practice.

The way people respond to feedback can vary widely. If we aren’t aware of how the people around us prefer feedback, we’re starting out with a much lower chance of the feedback being meaningful. How do we find out? A novel concept called asking. Seriously though…ask. The 50/40/10 rule tells us that 50% of how we react to feedback is hard-wired into our DNA, 40% is based on the story we tell ourselves about the feedback and only 10% is based on the actual feedback. If only 10% is based on the feedback, we have a huge window for improvement in how we receive and in how we intentionally give feedback.

Feedback lies at the crossroads of two critical human needs, the desire to learn and grow and the need to be accepted just as I am. That makes it loaded with emotional tension and it is often avoided for this reason. As the receiver, be aware of the stories you are feeding yourself. Strip out the emotion, look at what is there and then decide what is useful and how to get it to work for you.

#3 – When you intentionally shift your way of thinking from avoiding to asking for feedback, you are able to use it as fuel for growth. Something remarkable happens and you actually begin to enjoy feedback. When you begin to look at praise and criticism as information about the person giving it, you are able to be curious about the feedback. That simple and profound shift will dramatically change the speed at which we grow. (Shameless plug: ask about our program that was designed to do this.)

A great feedback culture doesn’t just happen. It must be implemented, fostered and practiced. Remember feedback can be a gift or be devastating – will you make it your superpower or your kryptonite?