Workplace Relationships
Productivity through people
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Feedback Fundamentals - it's the stories we tell ourselves!

So many people are terrified of feedback…but why?

As Brene Brown says in her new Netflix show “The Call To Courage’, no matter what is said, we tell ourselves that even though our boss has said ten positive things, the one ‘growth’ area is all that matters! And that is what haunts us… we find it harder to believe we are no good at something then to trust that we are excelling in something. So feedback is filled with the old “We need to talk!” and “Are you breaking up with me?” type emotions.

I think the reason we find both giving and receiving feedback about our work is that we tie so much up in what we do as a way of defining ourselves. When we meet a new person, we ask “What do you do?” as a way of deciding who they are!

When I stopped teaching, I felt a sense of loss - if I’m not a teacher, then what am I? Apart from the fact that EVERYONE knows what a teacher is and has a great/horrible story to share, and an opinion on how it should be done - people were able to put me in a ‘box’ as that type of person.

So, if our identity is aligned to what we do - the possibility of being told we could do it better is somewhat daunting!

But it’s because of the stories we tell ourselves that we are so afraid…

We make up so much back-fill story to the feedback. When the person sat opposite you scans the form they need to complete and says…”Let’s talk about how you work in a team”, the stories become:

“Why? Who has complained?”

“But my team is struggling - don’t judge me by them!”

“Team? I do all the work! Ah…you’re going to say I’m bossy right?”

Hearing feedback - and actually, having a difficult conversation with someone is hard because we assume the worst and attach so much emotion to what is being said.

“You need to improve the amount of time it takes to complete a customer transaction”

Can be heard as:

“You’re slow!”

“You don’t know what you’re doing”

“Customers are complaining about you”

“You’re at risk of losing your job”

And so on…

We take it as a statement of us as a person, we assign value to the word ‘improve’ and see this as a shortfall and failing in us. However, the comment itself is purely a statement about time. Maybe they want you to take more time! Maybe the next question may ask you if a change in software program could help with this? Maybe we do need to go faster, but want to ensure that we’ve given the customer our absolute best and that takes a bit longer sometimes.

So when you hear something that makes you tense up.

DON’T try to respond.

Just sit with it.

See if you can find the truth in what’s being said. And if you are still struggling, ask for specific scenarios or facts and advice on how it could’ve been dealt with better. You don’t need to agree or disagree - simply listen.

If the person giving the feedback is well trained - and I strongly think they need to be - the feedback should relevant to the job, a negotiated conversation and assessment of the current and desired situations and using the language of the companies values to give a framework and context to the conversation. In the case of the example already used, if “Excelling At Customer Service’ is a company value, then the conversation is about how we are meeting this value. Are we too slow to get a conclusion? Or are we failing customers by offering only half a solution in order to be quick to resolve? Knowing your what “Excelling At Customer Service’ looks like for this company, in this type of transaction removes the ambiguity and helps to minimise the ‘story-telling’ in our heads.

We need to embrace the ‘Fundamentals of Feedback’ to remove the fear and emotion of these discussions. We need to develop our ability to be open and honest in our conversations in order to both give and receive feedback. This of course requires trust! Trust to say what we think, and trust that it will be said in a respectful and constructive way. Unfortunately, my experiences across workplaces, is that this trust is very often lacking, and the fundamentals are often unknown. So our stories continue to thrive and our workplaces continue to shudder at the utterance of “Let’s go into my office!”

Check out my list of Feedback Fundamentals:

Feedback is essential for all employees to engage in. 

The ‘Language of Feedback’ should be the same as the company values and support moving to the company’s overall vision.

It includes both positive and constructive growth comments - it is not a mechanism to embarrass or belittle anyone.

It needs to be regular and flow across the organisation in all directions to truly help staff be effective in their role.

It is made up of formal processes and informal touch points.

Leaders should be regularly soliciting feedback on how they can improve the ease of their staff completing work.

It comes from an accepted viewpoint that everyone is trying their best and wants to improve.

The most effective feedback is honest and delivered with respect and acknowledgement of vulnerability.


If you want to read more, you can download Workplace Relationships’ FREE ebooks here:

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Book 2: Receiving Feedback

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Book 1: Giving Feedback