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Stop Scaring Yourself When You Give (or Receive) Feedback

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

Do you feel a nervous flutter in your stomach when you’re about to give someone corrective feedback? Are you suddenly coming up with reasons not to say anything today? Are you worried about suddenly turning into a mean boss or co-worker and disgruntling your talent?

Fear in the brain If you feel these things, know that what you are feeling is a very typical response. Your emotional brain has been triggered and your brain cells headed into a fight-or-flight reaction. Fear, anxiety, and dread lead to more of the same, resulting in more feedback avoidance in the future.

Possible origin of your feedback fear #1: Past trauma The fear may come from past “feedback trauma,” in which a parent or boss scolded, berated, or humiliated you and caused you to lose confidence. You probably felt the feedback experience as terrible and the opposite of helpful. You may not remember the details, but you can’t miss the feelings of injury. Not only did you become personally wary about receiving feedback, but you now want to run away even more when you need to give feedback to others. The bad experience you had freezes you in your tracks.

Possible origin of your feedback fear #2: Fear of injuring others Another reason for feedback avoidance is more than not wanting to hurt the other person’s feelings. A mechanism in the brain that has been documented in MRI studies, associates giving corrective feedback to torturing others! As feedback givers talk about giving honest feedback to someone, their neurons travel the same scary pathways as if their boss had asked them to stab or injure the other person! No wonder you recoil!

Understanding your natural fears and moving beyond them So now that I’ve scared you about how scary feedback can feel, how can you get over this hurdle to do what you need to do to coach other people and improve your business. Here are the “4 R’s” of how to reduce brain stress and get going with enthusiasm:

  1. Recognize negative states of mind that feedback triggers as quickly as possible and vow to not let them hijack your plans.

  2. Reframe the idea of everyday feedback as a helpful and positive action for you, your employees, and the organization. Jot down some intentions for what you want to see from each player on your team and wins you want to experience with the whole team.

  3. Redirect how you give feedback so that you link it to the shared goals you have for the team for the individual’s growth. When they see the why and how they need to improve, you are more likely to unleash positive associations for everyone involved.

  4. Revel in your success as it will positively motivate you to offer more and better everyday feedback in the future.

For more tips and a better understanding of how to get over your fear of feedback read Chapter 5, Reduce Your Brain Stress that starts on page 51 of The Feedback Imperative. 

“A concise and effective tool… It provides context, inspiration, and great actionable content.”

— Mark Holzbach, Creative and Tech Community Connector, Co-Founder, Zebra Imaging

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