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How to deal with difficult feedback.
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Imagine you’re in a meeting with your manager, and you hear the words, “I have some feedback…”.

Do you initially tense up, or feel anxious and worried about what they’re about to say next? Or perhaps, you ignore it, or pretend it’s no big deal?

The truth is, receiving challenging feedback can be daunting for anyone. Worse still, is that there are LOTs of books and trainings about how to deliver feedback, but I rarely hear anyone discuss how to receive and cope with challenging feedback.

In today’s episode, I share how you can deal with challenging feedback to the best of your ability.

According to two Harvard Law School lecturers, when we get hit by tough feedback, our brains can trigger up to 3 different types of reactions: truth, relationship and identity.

1. Truth Triggers:

When we’re experiencing a “Truth Trigger” we discount the feedback as untrue, wrong or worse, completely unhelpful. This is because it challenges our version of what’s true. (Truth is entirely subjective and can mean things like, “I’m good at selling”; “I know how to manage my clients; “I am successful in my role”). When our version of true is upset, we just ignore the feedback.

Solution: Instead of reacting with: “That’s wrong”, respond with: “Tell me more”

When a truth trigger strikes, try to re-frame the conversation from reacting with a knee-jerk: “That’s wrong” response to a more curious and open-minded: “Tell me more“, to understand the feedback a bit more. In a heated moment, this may be challenging; however, when we request additional understanding from the giver, we get more clarity in return.

For example , when your boss says “Mary, I want you to be more strategic”, your boss’s meaning, and your interpretation of, “strategic” could be exact opposites of each other.

Instead of thinking “I’m being strategic, they’re wrong!” – ask them to explain what they mean, and be open and curious about their response. This might help you and your boss in the process

2. Relationship Triggers:

The “relationship trigger” involves the giver of the feedback and our relationship to them, more so than the content of their feedback. With this trigger, the relationship between the giver and receiver is causing the challenges rather than the content of their feedback. Oftentimes we question the credibility of the giver or even their motives; the giver hasn’t earned our trust to give us feedback. We might react with a judgment of them, “You think I’m the problem? Its obviously you that’s got all these issues!”

Solution: Separate the “what” from the “who”

There are two tracks going on in our mind: one is the relationship track (“who”) and the other is the feedback track (“what”). The clearer path is to distinguish the “what” feedback from the “who” relationship, and to discuss both tracks clearly and separately.

When this trigger happens, we let the relationship issue overshadow the feedback. Take the below example:

Giver: “I need you to be on time for this meeting

Receiver: “You don’t get to talk to me that way”.

We can fix this by separating the content of the feedback (being punctual) from the underlying issue (relationship) by asking:

“What’s the dynamic between us and how are we each contributing to this problem?

3. Identity Triggers:

This trigger is neither about the giver nor the feedback. This is about “you” and who you think you are. When our identity gets triggered, we don’t think about our strengths and weaknesses in the moment, all we think about is our survival. “I always mess up”, “I’m just not good at this job “I’m not a bad team player or am I?“. Our Amygdala (primitive part of our brain) gets hijacked- We think of fight, flight or freeze.

Solution: Shift from “fixed” to a “growth” mindset

Some of us love what we do so much that we inherently tie our self-worth to our position. When our position is under attack, it drags down our self-worth in the process. This is challenging and I’m not going to tell you otherwise. However, with practice, you can get in front of it.

Regain balance by seeing feedback for what it is – Information about the behavior, not about the person behind the behavior. Also what helps here is intentionally cultivating a growth mindset (I see I need to improve here and I know I can overcome this moment) versus a fixed mindset (No matter how much I try, I’ll still not be able to figure this out).

I believe in these triggers so much that I’ve made sure that all my feedback training covers not only how to give feedback but equally importantly how to receive feedback graciously.

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