How to Make Feedback a Superpower for Work and Life
As children, we practiced the experience of receiving feedback in school. We wrote an essay, submitted it, received marks from the teacher, and improved our work to get a good grade. We did this over and over again. So why is it that, as adults, we’re afraid of receiving constructive feedback or participating in collaborative conversations? When we present our work, our heart rate rises, our voice shakes, and we can’t sleep at night because we’re worried about how it went over.
It’s possible that while school taught us how to improve our work based on feedback, it didn’t prepare us for the slow, complicated integration of our sense of worth with our perceived success. Undoubtedly, students who got good grades were valued, while students who struggled didn’t receive the same opportunity, attention, or encouragement.
This has led many of us to develop tactics to avoid the unwanted dismissal, judgment, or isolation that comes with not performing at a high level. These behaviors can manifest in different ways, such as perfectionism for some, and for others, lack of interest in participating in potentially challenging experiences that may result in failure.
People who did well also developed tactics that resulted in behaviors like poor boundary setting, overworking themselves, and micromanagement.
A roadblock to our potential and value
And what is the common thread these different people, affected by the same thing, share? Fear of feedback. Of hearing it from a peer, a mentor, or even a stranger; of being exposed as flawed and unqualified. The unfortunate thing about this phenomenon is that it negatively impacts the lives of the individual, their workplaces, communities, and the entire world.
When we avoid feedback, we close ourselves off from the gifts others can give us, our own potential, and the value we can add to our relationships, teams, and communities. So how do we overcome this and open ourselves to the possibilities created by learning to fearlessly accept, and even search for, critical feedback?
1. Redefine where your value comes from
It’s easy to become entangled with our work and associate ourselves with what we produce. Why wouldn’t you? It came from your hands and your mind, after all. But this is your first mistake. As soon as you assign personal worth to the work you produce (or even your behaviors), you begin to try to protect that worth. That means avoiding the potential growth that comes from risk-taking. Suddenly, hearing criticism about your work turns into hearing criticism about your value as a person.
Step back and redefine where your value truly lies. Try making a list of the reasons you’re worthwhile. It may take some soul-searching, but once you realize and believe that your worth is grounded in something more significant and enigmatic than the quality of the report you put together for a client, you’ll start to feel less attached to whether something you made is flawed. And this is the beginning of opening your mind to the power of feedback.
2. Trigger curiosity
When it comes to giving and accepting feedback, mindset is everything. If you approach a conversation from a defensive position, you set yourself up to fail, automatically perceiving everything thrown at you as an attack and something you have to fend off. But if you approach a conversation with a curious mindset, it flips your field of vision on its head. Suddenly, you’re open to discovery. Discovery of a new point of view, a hole in your logic that could be filled, or a question you failed to ask yourself.
Curiosity is a superpower. It requires empathy, compassion, and a certain distance between one’s perceived value and the thing they’re dismantling and exploring. And that distance is the very thing you need to gracefully accept, and come to look for, the critical feedback that can help you improve.
3. Adjust your perspective
If you consider your work, behaviors, thoughts, and habits as works in progress and approach every new conversation from a place of curiosity, you’ll discover a thousand more opportunities to fine-tune your approach and improve your work. But this can be hard to do when the immediacy of the situation is overpowering the longer-term goal and vision.
Step back from the immediate consequence and consider the situation six months or a year in advance. This shift in perspective can help reduce stress and visualize the positive result of integrating feedback into your life. Remember that while something may feel like a huge deal today, it may not matter a year from now.
4. Discover a new level of confidence
Working with yourself to redefine your core beliefs takes work and time. Sometimes, the best you can do is acknowledge how you’re feeling or how you reacted. Knowing how well you handle feedback or manage the fear of being found out as flawed is the first step to learning and defining a different path.
Look at yourself and like what you see
It’s incredible how much confidence these tactics can bring you in your life and work. Your confidence grows when you recognize your worth is beyond the value of your work or how well you handle a situation. You’ll learn to see yourself as a work in progress; you’ll learn to listen to feedback with an open mind and weigh it with curiosity. You’ll be more confident of your choices and able to accept or let go of feedback with clarity and the power of self-awareness. And as a result of all these things, your impact on your community, workplace, and relationships will be more significant than you have ever thought possible.
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Photo by ammentorp