Articles and News

Let me give you some feedback...


How does that line "let me give you some feedback" make you feel? Immediately on the defensive - triggering flight, fight, freeze mode? Yes, me too.

When I was younger, I hated getting any kind of constructive criticism. My brother used to play me the chorus to a Spin Doctors song called “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and I don’t think he was far off the mark!!

As I matured, and certainly through my working life, I have got gradually better at accepting this sort of feedback. And now, as a coach, I actively seek and embrace the right kind of feedback in the pursuit of continually improving myself as a coach so that I can serve my clients to the best of my ability.

BUT, sometimes the feedback still stings and I’ve recently been exploring why this is so and, in understanding why, finding ways to still get value from the feedback. Of course, I’m sharing my findings with you in the hope that it can help you too!

Feedback Triggers

We can’t always control how, when or why we receive feedback. Sometimes it’s unsolicited and delivered in an unhelpful way. What we can control, however, is how we respond to the feedback. If you react negatively, there are three common triggers that elicit that reaction and it’s helpful to identify which of them is triggering you.

1. The truth trigger

The truth trigger is set off by the content of the feedback itself. We basically see the feedback as just plain wrong (Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong), unfair or simply unhelpful. Consequently, we reject the feedback, get all defensive and commonly go on the counter-attack.

When you are triggered in this way, it’s helpful to try to really understand and unpack the feedback you have received. Be curious about it. Try to listen to exactly what the other person is describing and ask them questions about what they specifically mean. Could you be dismissing this feedback because you have a blind spot? Think about whether you’ve had similar feedback before.

Even if you don't end up acting upon the feedback, at least you have acted to understand it.

2. The relationship trigger

The relationship trigger is set off by your relationship with the person giving the feedback. If you don’t have a great relationship with the person giving the feedback, then you’ll dismiss it thinking “You’re the one with the problem, not me”. This can trigger hurt, suspicion or anger.

In this instance it’s important to try to separate the “what” from the “who”. Imagine someone else had given you this feedback. What would you think about it then? Think about the relationship dynamic and how that has impacted your response to the feedback. What is at the bottom of this trigger and can you resolve it?

3. The identity trigger

This trigger is set off by the impact of the feedback on our sense of who we are. For example, if someone told me that I am a rubbish listener, that would knock my sense of self which is tied up with being a good listener. In this instance you feel threatened, embarrassed and off balance.

With this trigger, it’s helpful to correct distorted thinking and see the actual size of the feedback. Don't get into catastrophising or "all or nothing" thinking. Perhaps I didn't listen well yesterday because I was distracted. This doesn't make me a universally bad listener. It’s also really helpful to switch to growth thinking and take the feedback as something to use to learn, grow and improve.

Marshall Goldsmith coined the phrase "feed-forward" not feedback and I think this is a perfect reframe!

Get better at receiving feedback

If you’d like to get better at receiving feedback graciously, here are some top tips:

  • Ask for advice rather than feedback – advice tends to be more specific, future and growth focused, and more actionable.
  • Sit with the feedback for a while. If you’re triggered identify the trigger and unpick it as described above. Which bits of the feedback could be useful?
  • If you were to wholeheartedly accept the feedback, what would you do differently as a consequence? Would this help you to improve in some way? If so, it is definitely worth trying.

I hope that's been helpful. We all receive feedback and it can truly be a gift if we receive it in the right way.

If you would like this weekly blog sent directly to your inbox, as well as receive a copy of my “Top 3 Ways to Boost Your Career Happiness Right Now,” please click here.