Who loves ‘constructive feedback’? Giving or receiving? Anyone?
Some people do, I’ve met one, she’s amazing and I love her open, grounded and welcoming attitude to constructive feedback – ‘’give me something to work with’’. Brilliant. For Quiet Leaders however, either way can be challenging.
Research shows that our reaction to the prospect of feedback – even the word – invokes a fear response. Our primitive brain sees it as a threat, a potential rejection – being pushed out into the cold from the warm tribe fireside. So, we want to avoid it, fight it, or shut down/it out. Sensible reaction to a life threatening situation, maybe not so much if we want to grow ourselves or help others to grow.
As a Quiet Leader, I am betting one of the reasons you get up in the morning is to enable others – your ‘why’ is to help people reach their full potential. And we are great at listening and observing, using our intuition and perceptive selves to figure out what isn’t working so well, and what could help people to grow. We see and feel things others don’t, have insights that will be valuable to others, to help them thrive.
But it may be uncomfortable to receive this, those doing so may react defensively and aggressively – deny, challenge and attack our perception. As quiet leaders a number of things might arise – our empathic feeling of these emotions, our own vulnerability around feedback, and our inner people pleasers, perfectionists and imposters. We don’t want people to feel bad, we feel responsible for the outcome and the reaction, we may physically feel the uncomfortable emotions, and we question ourselves endlessly about how we could have ‘done better’ – with anxiety looking ahead, and rumination looking back.
Who wants to feel all the turmoil someone else is going through, as well as our own stuff? Is it any wonder we might avoid, soften, or put off giving constructive feedback?
But in order to help people develop, as Quiet Leaders we need to grow our own skills in giving and receiving feedback – both constructive and out-and-out positive. To live, lead and work with a growth mindset, it’s vital.
As senior leaders this can become even more complex, because we’re giving feedback to leaders we manage or work with. The feedback becomes less about actions and more about behaviours, hence has the potential to be a little less objective. So we will question our own leadership skills: ‘Who am I to raise ‘y’, they might criticise the way I do ‘x’, ‘I know their leadership style is different’, ‘Is my leadership style ‘’right’’?’
And then comes our stuff – imposter syndrome and people pleasing. We feel responsible for the outcome, because we must get this conversation ‘right’, ‘perfect’ – if we’re a good enough leader they’ll be open, responsive, grateful. And our people pleasers – we know this will be uncomfortable, we can easily put ourselves in their shoes. If we find receiving feedback difficult, then we will anticipate their discomfort, hurt, and emotional response.
Because of all this we are poised and prepared for a reaction, and unconsciously to all, our armouring is contagious – if we are tense, anticipating a less easeful outcome, we start off armoured and tense. Non-verbal signals are picked up on, and our people become tense and ready for a threat – if we’ve launched in with the word ‘feedback’ then they’re REALLY ready!
And yet constructive feedback is absolutely invaluable – for confidence, autonomy, self awareness, and personal and professional growth.
Here are five things you could try…
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Use concrete examples, and make sure they’re reasonably recent. Look at some feedback models – I like ‘AID’ and ‘SBI’. Stay objective. Write important points down, and if you have some key messages, practice saying them out loud. And maybe practice calling ‘feedback’ something else – observations, suggestions…
2. Release the outcome, focus on the intent
Once you’ve done all that preparation, let go of any expectation as to the outcome – or you may stop listening, becoming disappointed and frustrated. Ask yourself some key questions to focus on your ‘why’, your bigger intent.
Here are some possible ones –
– Why are you doing this? What is your intent? Could you state it as you enter into the conversation?
– In % terms, how responsible are you for the outcome?
– How do you react to feedback? Is your initial response the one that lasts? What useful feedback have you had in the past that at first felt threatening?
3. Model receiving your own feedback.
Our own effectiveness as leaders is optimised by understanding our impact. Quiet leaders are usually more self-aware and emotionally intelligent, but we all have blind spots, and when stress and overwhelm step in, our actions and behaviours may not be as congruent with our values as we would like.
You may feel uncomfortable and threatened if the feedback is challenging, but we are then ‘walking the walk’, receiving it as a gift it is, and then examining it for truth and evidence. We are modelling doing difficult things for our own development, and investing in continual growth. Actively seek it, simply respond with a ‘thank you’, and let it sink in for a few days, sitting with the discomfort. What can you learn from it? Do they have a point? Is there any other evidence to support it?
4. Try asking before you tell
For two reasons this can be incredibly powerful – one, the person is exploring their own self-awareness and their own solutions. Most people don’t immediately defend against themselves. And secondly you don’t need to ‘tell’, ‘be right’ – but to use your strengths in listening, and being curious. OK, reserve your feedback model if they are really missing the point or just blaming everyone else. My suggestion is to prepare a few potential questions – open, and no whys if possible (they can be a bit confrontational unless you’re both trusting of each other).
A coaching approach does require a level of trust for people to be open, so use your judgement as to whether it’s appropriate.
5. Be kind to yourself
Take time to settle yourself beforehand, don’t go straight from ‘busy’ into a conversation, braced and tense. Meditate, walk in nature for ten minutes, take some deep breaths in the loo, whatever you can make happen. Afterwards block out some time to do the same. And give yourself a limited time to reflect on what you can learn from the experience, so you don’t get caught in overthinking mode!