Most people have difficulties receiving feedback. For some, the only thing worse than receiving constructive feedback is giving it! When given correctly, feedback is not meant to harm or criticise people, but meant as a way to improve. Even if we know feedback is good for us, what’s holding us back from accepting and sharing it with others?
The most common answer is our body’s natural negativity bias. Prominent neuroscientists have found that our brains are hardwired to react to negative stimuli faster than positive stimuli. This was originally necessary for our survival – sensing an attack would trigger our body’s natural fight or flight mode.
However, in an office setting our negativity bias and flight or flight reaction can actually work against us. Even when receiving mostly positive feedback, it tends to be the constructive feedback that we recall most acutely. Though feedback doesn’t constitute a physical attack, in their separate research Psychologist Peter Gray and Management Professor Neal Ashkanasy both explain that criticism can signal a sense of exclusion, and for this reason, constructive feedback can sometimes trigger our fight or flight survival mode.
An important part of overcoming this fear is creating a feedback habit. In the book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” Charles Duhigg describes how neuroscientists discovered the impact of habits on rewiring the brain towards certain behaviours. Using the key elements of creating a habit – cue, routine and reward – you can induce certain behaviours in yourself and across your organisation. Let’s see how we can apply this to feedback:
Cue– Receiving a feedback notification from a colleague/manager.
Routine – People don’t want to receive top down instructions on what to do. In their study, Zenger and Folkman found that the more managers carefully listened to their employee’s point of view before giving feedback, the more honest and trustworthy their feedback was perceived. They suggest that the best way to give constructive feedback is to first give the other person the chance to explain the situation and what they think went wrong. Before immediately going into feedback, allow the other person to formulate their own plan of action. If you listen carefully up to this point, when you give your own feedback it is much more likely to be well received. Finally, make sure you check in the following week, so you can lend further advice if needed.
Reward– Using feedback to reach the professional goals you’ve set yourself.