Hack Your Brain To Embrace Critical Feedback


You have heard this: feedback is good; give/get feedback regularly; if you want to grow, sustain that growth, feedback is one of the most important things (if not "the" most important). But, let's face it, receiving critical feedback is hard; very hard. Critical feedback shakes you to your core; it is up there when it comes to things in life that are frightening, uncomfortable, unpleasant and painful.

Our body's instinct is to defend us; to protect us.

Basically, here's what's happening behind the scenes: when we are on the receiving end of critical feedback, we feel threatened; we feel insecure; we sense danger. Our natural defense mechanism kicks in. As a result, we become defensive. It's an evolutionary thing (our brain still thinks we are from the stone age). But, that reaction is the exact opposite of what you must be doing. Once you become defensive, things usually go south, and you generally end up losing out on a valuable opportunity to learn something new; an opportunity to learn about your blind spots. Simply put, you lose out on an opportunity to grow - what a shame!
Fortunately, there is good news. You can actually master the art of receiving critical feedback in a way that is productive and helpful. It's a bit of hack, but it works.

Rule #1: Don't fight your emotions; don't ignore them - process them instead

It is totally fine to experience those (intense) emotions in response to critical feedback. After all, this is mostly because no one likes to be (proven) wrong; no one likes to be rejected; no one likes to be told we need improvement; etc. Fighting or ignoring your emotions will cause you to get into a defensive mode. The key is to process them in a way which will let you be in control of the already tense situation. In other words, trying to prevent your body's defense mechanism from going into overdrive.
Do not listen to your brain during this time (after all, there is no saber tooth tiger out to eat you for dinner); do the opposite of what it wants you to do. But, how can you achieve this? Here's where the next rule comes in.

Rule #2: Always look at the big picture; be a strategic thinker.

Big picture thinking is key: learn to look at the big picture; learn to think long-term; learn to be more strategic in your thinking. This mindset will ensure that you will focus on things that matter; ignore or let go of things that don't. All these will help you be in control of the situation and to stay focused on your mission -- which is to absorb and process as much feedback as you can without becoming (too) defensive. This will let you make the best of the given situation, as opposed to blowing it away by becoming defensive.
People often don't realize how priceless feedback is and how fortunate they are to even receive it. I'd argue that people should pay others to get feedback. It is so valuable. It is such a shame to see the people who are fortunate enough to get it (for free), just flushing it down the toilet from their defensive behavior. Not only are they losing out in the short term, but even in the long term, people will be less inclined to give them more feedback. They will be silently ignored without them even realizing it. Scary. Don't let this happen to you.

Rule #3: Look for creative ways to get feedback; get it continuously; look beyond the usual suspects.

Nothing beats practice and consistency. Asking for feedback when it is time for your promo, or the end of the quarter or the year is terrible. You will not only get crappy feedback, you will also not be ready to receive it in a productive way. Make receiving feedback part of your day to day; part of your daily life. For this continuous feedback cycle to work, it's not enough to only receive it from your manager and/or peers; you must get it from all aspects of your life.
So, how do you get feedback from all kinds of places and also make it part of your daily life? Well, for starters, take some risks; get out of comfort zone; fail; put yourself in uncomfortable situations (don't be foolish about it though; try not to be on NY times' cover page for the wrong reasons; use some common sense). Also, choose quantity over quality (within reason, that is); you can throw away the waste later (there will always be some). In every situation, whether you are dropping your kids off at school, or at the grocery store, or meeting that vendor, or in that important strategy meeting -- be present; be aware; process your emotions; understand how you are reacting. Reflect. Learn. Get feedback (both from being your own critic and also from others if you can). Iterate on the feedback.
As you go through this exercise, you will start to expose yourself to your blind spots; you will start to see real value. It will open up doors and windows that you never even knew existed. Most importantly, it will help you understand and appreciate the world in a much deeper way: how it works; how decisions are made; how to win; how to be happy; etc. It will also help you be better prepared to handle feedback from your Boss -- which, arguably, is the most valuable to you for in terms of your career growth.

Ready to hack your brain? Outsmart it?

All of us at some point felt or wished that the people around us: co-workers, bosses, family, friends, strangers, neighbors, etc -- were (a bit) more open to receiving feedback and not as defensive. The relationships, as a result, will be stronger; productivity goes up -- and will generally lead to positive outcomes.
You can get there; start by being that change. Make a deliberate attempt to try and incorporate/apply these rules in your day-to-day. Take baby steps. People around you will start to notice the positive change (good behaviors are contagious). Once people are convinced that you are good at receiving feedback, they will be comfortable giving more. Also, even if the person giving you feedback (could be your boss) is bad at receiving it, who knows, your actions and behavior may change them; change the whole team; change the whole company.
Finally, you can hack your brain to do other things as well: eating vegetables; working out regularly, and much more -- the possibilities are endless. Good luck!
And yes, I appreciate any/all feedback on this article (more importantly, critical feedback) --- Thanks!

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