14 Jul 2016
What are you like at receiving feedback? The truth is, when it comes to feedback most of us prefer to be givers than takers.
I once stepped onto an escalator behind a work colleague. We had both just put in three long days at a conference and were tired. He was complaining about all the things he still had to do, so I thought I’d give him some encouragement. As the escalator carried us upwards I leaned forward and said, “Can I give you some feedback?”
I noticed him tense up. He then jerked his head around and snarled down at me, “You want to give ME some feedback? Well let me give YOU some feedback!” A barrage of abuse came rushing out of his mouth, basically about what a demanding, unreasonable jerk I was. I stammered to respond, but couldn’t get a word in. Not only had my colleague misinterpreted my intentions. I had inadvertently triggered in him what psychologist, Daniel Goleman, calls an Amygdala Hijack. This is the overwhelming angry, out of control reaction we have when someone has pushed our emotional buttons.
The Amygdala is a little gland at the base of the brain that constantly monitors our environment for threats. And it is on a hair trigger. If it thinks we are under attack by someone or something, it first generates a freeze response (keep your head down and hope they will go away), then a flight response (get the hell out of there). If these aren’t options it generates a fight response (let ‘em have it). All this happens in a microsecond.
For the bulk of human history the most common type of attack was physical, so a fast, extreme response was needed to save us from danger. These days, attacks are more subtle. Rather than being scared that others will club us over the head and steal our food, we are fearful they will club us emotionally with criticism that steals our confidence, or that they will steal our reputation by putting us down in front of others. These attacks on our status can also activate a fast and extreme Amygdala response, like the one I had inadvertently triggered in my colleague.
While the brain responds in the same way to an emotional attack as it does to a physical one, the pain of an emotional attack cuts deeper and lasts longer than a physical one. If I poke you in the back for being slow, you might go “ouch” and push me back. Then it’s over. But if I embarrass you in front of your boss or peers you will never forgive me. Furthermore every time you think about this situation, the feelings of humiliation and shame will return.
This raises a big challenge for dealing with feedback. What I have discovered since my incident on the escalator is, in most people, the brain treats the question “Can I give you some feedback?” as a threat that is likely to trigger an Amygdala response. Indeed, neuroscience research has shown that when people are asked this question, their brain responds in a similar way to hearing footsteps coming up behind them in a dark alley!
Most of us want to get better at what we do. And the only way this is going to happen is through feedback. So we need to ensure we are good at receiving it. Here are five things we can do to receive feedback positively.
So what happened with my colleague on the escalator? When we got to the top I said there had been a misunderstanding, and suggested we take a break and catch up in ten minutes. By then we had both calmed down and were able to talk through the misunderstanding over a coffee. We now laugh about it, but at the time it was no laughing matter.
These blog postings are part of the series “Greg’s Tips for Healthy Franchise Relationships". If you would like to receive these tips by email, please provide your details below: