Consulting

The Love/Hate Relationship With Workplace Feedback

Feb. 12th, 2019

Patricia Bagsby, Ph.D., Vice President of Organizational Consulting, is back with another Q4 insight! Just in time for Valentine’s Day, she’s talking about one of the most emotionally complex areas of work: everyone’s love-hate relationship with workplace feedback.

“Dear constructive criticism…”

As a leader, you may have heard the phrase “feedback is a gift.” But it may be that it feels better to give feedback at work than to receive it.

If we are honest, our first reaction to workplace feedback can be to find a way to “re-gift” those comments to someone else, or hide them away in the back of the closet with everything else that doesn’t fit “quite right.”

Before you take a KonMari approach to feedback at work, eliminating every bit of feedback that doesn’t “spark joy,” consider what you could be giving up.

Love

At an individual level, there’s a natural (and sometimes preoccupying) desire to know what others think. As social animals, human beings seek to evaluate our decisions based on what the crowd is doing.

And at a group level, we’ve come to expect feedback after we’ve performed a task or completed a project. Just looking at organization assessments shows that when coaching and feedback are missing, employees are quick to call it out as a point for organizational improvement.

Hate

Although we have a natural “pull” for feedback, we simultaneously can “push” this kind of interaction away. Receiving feedback can be difficult — blame it on your brain.

There appears to be a link between the way your brain processes physical pain and the way it deals with social hurt. Said another way, words can hurt. Just like many of us choose to carefully avoid situations that are likely to cause physical injury, we may also end up strategically avoiding feedback opportunities for fear of hearing something hurtful.

The issue is so pervasive in organizational life that Talent Development magazine recently featured “the fear of feedback” in their February issue.

And in those cases where we can’t avoid feedback, our brain provides strategies to ensure the hurt doesn’t last. Cognitive defense mechanisms enable us to reframe the feedback; we often end up taking in only want we want to hear, while simultaneously rejecting anything that doesn’t align with our own view of ourselves.

But these defense mechanisms also ensure we do not learn, change, or grow.

A Better Relationship With Feedback

Why strive for a better relationship with feedback? Feedback is essential to understanding perceptions that could be damaging to your career.

Plus, if feedback is useful for us as leaders, it holds that giving good feedback to our teams is vital for developing those who report to us. Finally, organizations that support a culture of feedback and candor are safer, more productive, and more psychologically healthy.

So, what should you do to improve your relationship with feedback?

  1. Learn how to give and receive good feedback. Training or coaching can give you strategies to increase receptivity and provide balanced feedback. (Resource: Attend our Leadership Through People Skills workshop.)
  2. Practice frequently. Build this muscle group. Much like biceps and triceps are complimentary muscles, you need to practice both sides of feedback — ask for insight around your own development, and actively seek opportunities to give feedback to peers and direct reports. (Resource: Attend our Leadership Through People Skills workshop.)
  3. Be an active participant. If you don’t like what you hear or you aren’t getting your message through, try changing your approach. (Resource: Invest in executive coaching with Psychological Associates.)

Feedback at work isn’t always easy to give or receive. But the more you flex those muscles, the more you can reduce the the hate and strengthen the love. Like any good relationship, though, it will first take intention to make the improvement.