The bad feedback myth

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sidewalk sign saying "awesome"

Feedback is challenging – this is not a revelation to most of you. Research has shown that people avoid providing feedback like it is the plague. For those on the receiving end, the desire to get feedback is clear but once we get it, the ensuing internal debate on the “worthiness” of the feedback begins to rage.

[Related: Your employees want constructive feedback, HBR]

At Fringe, we often hear from clients that they have received “bad feedback”. There are a variety of factors that can create this response. The feedback might be incomplete or lacking in support. Often times, the information is simply delivered poorly, and occasionally the feedback provided is completely incorrect. Despite all of these roadblocks our response to these clients and our position on feedback more broadly is:

There is no such thing as bad feedback.

That’s right, even feedback that is completely inaccurate is still useful to the receiver. So how do you combat the gut response (that actually occurs in your brain and not your stomach) to make the most of that feedback? Here are our top tips.

Recognize the gift

The old saying that feedback is a gift is true. Self-awareness is one of the most sought-after traits in leaders across industries. While there is a lot of work that individuals can do on their own to increase self-awareness, feedback of any kind can fast-track that process IF you are willing to listen and accept it.

[Related: All successful leaders need this quality, Forbes] 

Focus on reflection

As mentioned above, when faced with constructive feedback, your brain immediately wants to go into defense mode. This response is reflected differently in each person, some will tend towards a fight response and become defensive and combative. Others will move toward a flight response and return to their office to stew and rethink the feedback for the rest of the day. To pull yourself or others out of this defense mode, consciously move towards a reflective stance. Consider your role in the feedback, think about the other person’s perspective, and most importantly, keep your mindset positive.

Find the nugget

In every bit of feedback, there is a nugget of gold, something you didn’t know before that you can learn from. Find that nugget! This premise gets challenged most frequently when the receiver believes that the feedback is completely inaccurate. To illustrate that the nugget is always there, I like to use the sweater story. Say you go to work one day and someone compliments you on your green sweater. You just received some innocuous feedback from them, only your sweater is red. The feedback is factually incorrect so your gut might be to dismiss it. Think further though, you just learned something about the other person. They may be colorblind, or distracted, or inattentive to detail. In this case, your nugget is learning something more about them but in a more high stakes business setting, you can apply the same process to look beyond inaccurate feedback.

Acknowledge the challenge

When someone takes the time to provide feedback, take a moment to acknowledge that they likely did so by stepping outside of their comfort zone. People don’t usually go out of their way to mislead others with feedback. If your gut is telling you this is the case, take a moment to think about the other person working through their own discomfort in order to give you the gift of feedback.

Keeping these four simple steps in mind the next time you get “bad feedback” can help keep you from spiraling into a state of fight or flight and move you closer to gaining self-awareness and personal growth. Want to learn more about bringing feedback skills to your organization? Reach out to Managing Partner, Rachael Bosch to talk about the options that might work best for you!

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