Are You Avoiding the Pain of Feedback?

John R. Stoker is the author of  “Overcoming Fake Talk” and the president of Dialogue WORKS, Inc.  His organization helps clients and their teams improve leadership engagement in order to achieve superior results. He is an expert in the fields of leadership, change, dialogue, critical thinking, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence, and has worked and spoken to such companies as Cox Communications, Lockheed Martin, Honeywell, and AbbVie. Connect with him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter. 

I was working in my home office when I heard my young daughter scream.

I rushed upstairs to find her on the floor holding her foot in the air. Protruding from her foot was a sewing needle. Evidently, someone had dropped a needle and had failed to find it again.

As I bent down to remove the needle, she yelled at me, “Don’t touch it. It will hurt when you pull it out!”

“But don’t you want to be rid of that? The pain will only last for a second.”

“Don’t touch it, Dad!”

I distracted her for a second, grabbed the needle, and pulled it out. She shrieked, but after a few minutes, she admitted that her foot was starting to feel much better.

How often do we avoid feedback just to avoid the temporary pain that may result? We don’t realize that the perceived pain is often much worse than the reality.

Here are 10 questions to prepare you to receive valuable feedback from others to further your growth and development.

Do you seek out feedback?

Many of us assume that no news is good news. That is a mistake. Unless people feel comfortable sharing, or unless they are required to provide feedback, they usually won’t take the initiative to do so. There are many perceived consequences for speaking up. If you don’t make an effort to seek out feedback and make it safe for others to speak up, they usually won’t.

Are you striving to improve?

Most people who are working on some aspect of themselves or their business recognize that receiving feedback is the key to making improvements. Without the necessary information about what is working or not working, you will not be able to assess the effectiveness of current processes which may delay or prevent your desired results. 

Is the feedback you receive hard to hear?

If you answered affirmatively, then you likely don’t go out of your way to seek feedback. Or, perhaps when the feedback is given, you don’t seek additional information and understanding. Many who have difficulty hearing negative feedback will go to great lengths to justify their current behavior and practices rather than explore what people have to share with them. As our perception of ourselves is different than how others perceive us, taking the time to request information from others can provide us with much-needed understanding.

Do you become defensive or emotional when others offer correction?

If so, recognize that your reactions may be the reason that people avoid giving you feedback or speaking up when things don’t go well. Most people will do what they can to avoid negative emotional reactions as they may not know what’s behind the response, nor do they know how to deal with such reactions. Consequently, they believe that silence or avoidance is the better course of action.  

Do you avoid talking about your weaknesses?

Admitting weakness requires acknowledgment of what is not working if you hope to make improvements. Without that recognition, it’s easy to avoid being vulnerable by offering justifications or excuses when things don’t work out. These avoidance strategies may help a person put off addressing their poor performance, but such behavior does not improve results.

What do you hide from yourself or others?

This question is closely associated with the previous question. We don’t know what we don’t know. Unless you take the opportunity of seeking feedback from others, you may not have an accurate view of yourself and your performance. If you are lucky enough to receive feedback from others, be sure to ask for specific examples that you can use to make adjustments to improve your results.   

Receiving any kind of feedback may make us uncomfortable, particularly if we are surprised by what we hear.

JOHN STOKER

Do you become frustrated or angry when people offer constructive criticism?

Your emotional reaction to feedback says more about you than the person who offers you their perspective. A negative emotional reaction represents a violated value. If a person thinks they are doing a great job, and someone offers feedback that runs contrary to that person’s view of themselves, it is natural to react emotionally. Recognize that your emotional reactions are an important cue that there is something more happening beneath the surface. Your emotional reaction is a prompt to explore what you are thinking to increase your understanding of the situation. Then set your feelings aside and take an objective look at your actions and subsequent results.

Do you keep getting the same results, the same feedback, or the same performance ratings?

If this is happening, know that something needs to change if you would like different results. It takes courage to take an objective look at yourself and your performance and start to make the necessary changes that will lead to a different outcome. What stays the same leads to the same results. That is why feedback is such a gift—it provides us with a perspective beyond our own.

Are you afraid of what people may tell you?

I had one executive tell me that he didn’t want to ask for feedback because that implied that he would have to do something about it. His reply as a senior leader initially surprised me. But people are people, and most of us are uncomfortable when hearing negative or constructive feedback, especially if it is unexpected.

Do you want to stay small, or do you want to be great?

This is a great coaching question that a friend uses to emphasize the importance of change. When there are greater opportunities that await us, we need to do what we can to take advantage of them. Examining our goals and our behavior to make sure they are in alignment can help us get on course.

Receiving any kind of feedback may make us uncomfortable, particularly if we are surprised by what we hear. In spite of our good intentions, we may not entirely realize how our actions may impact others or how our performance is keeping us from achieving the desired results. Having a growth mindset by leaning into any feedback we receive and implementing any needed changes will help us reach our goals much more quickly. 

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