Why Receiving Feedback Is Hard

Most leaders are reluctant to receive feedback —a continuing workplace challenge. We generally don’t want to receive difficult information about ourselves, so issues go unresolved and challenges grow deeper. Staff is afraid to approach certain subjects, and trust and unity suffer.

Yet leaders can’t afford not to practice and promote the art and skill of receiving feedback gracefully. People look up to and will copy behaviors from their leaders. Emotions are contagious and nowhere is this more evident than when leaders react defensively and thwart feedback.

Here is another challenge from the list of four challenges of receiving feedback that I posted a few weeks ago:

Recognize and manage resistance to feedback.

Being aware of your emotional needs and insecurities is the first step in conquering them. Your need to be accepted may present as three significant fears, all closely related:

  • Fear of having to change: Change represents the unknown, and most people dread it. We lack control and are anxious about things going wrong. Change implies your current system is inadequate, so does this mean you’re inadequate?
  • Fear of failure: Significant failure can be personally debilitating for some and regarded as a career killer. If your identity is strongly tied to your position, you may view any failures at work as failure as a person.
  • Fear of rejection: The strongest fear of all, rejection is erroneously viewed as worthlessness or purposelessness. There are few more distressing feelings.

Our emotional needs and fears may cause us to exaggerate or misrepresent the feedback we receive. We turn a specific negative event into a character flaw, engaging in all-or-nothing thinking, note business professors James R. Detert and Ethan R. Burris in “Don’t Let Your Brain’s Defense Mechanisms Thwart Effective Feedback” (Harvard Business Review blog, August 2016). Black-and-white thinking can induce “catastrophizing” (believing things are worse than they are).

This “selective perspective,” as it’s sometimes called, can lead to unbalanced reactions—and the more unbalanced, the more severe the consequences. With training, you can learn to be calm and reasonable, enjoying the relief that accompanies putting problems in perspective.

Is your situation really that serious? Do other people’s opinions give them magical powers over you? Not really. Recognize that short-term pain can yield long-term gain. A painful comment is not going to take you down. Things will be OK.

These approaches can help you overcome fears and anxieties, thus defeating your resistance to feedback. What has been your experience with feedback? I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached via my website, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter.

Tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *