You probably think that’s a ridiculous title: When receiving Feedback, Humanize – don’t personalize. But, of course, you will personalize feedback; that’s the whole point of feedback. And I agree with that. But let us be a little realistic – do you listen the same way when you hear feedback about yourself as someone else? I would argue that if you are sensible, the answer is no, and that’s what I mean by “Personalized feedback.” It is innately easier to hear feedback about someone else than about yourself.
Remember that feelings (at work, home, or wherever) are very real. And how you deal with them (in the form of feedback) makes up the difference between a high-performing team and one that is not.
When you personalize feedback – everything can get distorted. Everything can get twisted, and all you see is the attack.
An example of personalizing feedback:
One Friday afternoon, your boss pulls you aside and lets you know that you are underperforming, and you spend all weekend in bed fuming or incredibly sad.
When you humanize feedback – you deal with a more objective reality. As a result, you can put some distance between the feedback and your amygdala.
An example of humanizing feedback:
One Friday afternoon, your boss pulls you aside and lets you know that you are underperforming, and you schedule time with her or him on Monday to try to understand more. Your weekend, instead, is spent trying to understand the feedback so that on Monday, you are hungry to learn.
People will remain irrational, and you can’t control that. But you’ll find yourself in a better position to work with their feedback as it stands if you receive their feedback as an objective and impartial observer.
Once you’ve heard their honest feedback, you can decide whether to accept or reject it.
If all you hear is the attack, you’ll always reject it. In other words, you’ll never learn from feedback – which will be your loss.
Whatever information is shared with you will become collateral damage regardless of how valuable it may be. Instead, listen for the content of the feedback and NOT the attack, and you’ll find yourself in a position to grow.
I recognize that making this change is not a flip of the switch. You can never entirely turn your emotions off, but progress starts with awareness. It’s too easy to fall into patterns if you don’t first recognize that you are in one. Once you are aware, take one step towards listening to the content.
A way to practice this would be to discuss it with someone you fundamentally disagree with. Pick a topic that is not inherently about you. Try not to fight their argument. Instead, try to listen to the reasoning around their rationale as much as you can. The more and more you can practice this, the better prepared you’ll be to humanize feedback when it might become personal. Understanding the opposing opinion’s internal views can be incredibly empowering.
Whatever you do – Don’t Demonize
It’s very easy to make assumptions before having real dialog with people who might have opposing opinions. Avoid thoughts that you use to justify in rejecting feedback. They are lazy and incredibly easy to use when hiding from the real issue – your ability to understand the feedback. And not only that, a culture where each side in a disagreement demonizes the other is the least productive and least psychologically safe environment you can find yourself in.
References and Resources
Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen – Thanks for the Feedback
Note: Originally posted December 12, 2017