If someone called you and said they wanted to have a chat to give you some feedback, and you’re like most of the population, you would likely assume the worst. This would be irrespective of your seniority and how much experience you have. We are all a little crazy like that. It’s because we are wired to think in deficits. The technical term is a ‘negative bias’.
Seeing gaps and opportunities is one of the things that makes you a great leader. In fact, your brain is wired to stay in the trap of anticipating bad news. Yet if you stay in this high alert space, at all times, it will not serve you. Because you will assume the worst and then go down a rabbit warren of being constantly on your guard or defensive or even retreating.
Feedback is bigger than conversations
The thing about feedback is that it’s not always about what people tell you. It’s not always the content in conversations. Feedback is everywhere. It could be the feedback you give yourself when you are in a conversation with another, or observing how someone is being treated. If a colleague is publicly pulling another ‘into line’ and you have a reaction to it, that’s feedback that you are uncomfortable.
Feedback is just information you receive and how you respond to it. Both the receiving and responding. One is content that comes your way, the other is the feedback you give yourself.
Your response is your sign
So how do you know when you are friends with feedback or not? We can make this super simple. Does what you are hearing or observing make you react ‘above the line’ or ‘below the line’? You may know them as marketing or accounting principles. In this context it is about our behaviours. How we react in the moment.
Below the line is when you are closed, defending or protecting. It’s about avoidance of the role you may have played, in the circumstance and ultimately avoiding responsibility. At worst when you are below the line you are trapped in blame. Blame says that someone or something is wrong, and it’s not you. It’s a discharge of ownership. It also means you don’t need to take responsibility for your reactions. When you blame you shut off the possibility of learning. Whether it’s blame of others or it’s self-blame, it is all unhealthy and unhelpful.
The other sign of, and an unhealthy reaction to feedback is denial. This is where your fear of reconciling feedback with what you know about yourself keeps you in your blind spots. In its simplest form it’s a coping mechanism as you might not be willing to face what might be true, so you protect yourself to remain in a ‘safe’ place. This creates disconnection with others and yourself.
Being above the line is about staying open and curious; responding well because your intention comes from a good place. When you start noticing how you are responding to the outside world and decide to respond well, you move in responsibility and ownership. This is where you manage your responses, understanding that there is a better way and that you must self-regulate. It’s a space where you learn not to control people or circumstances and know what to influence and what to leave. We just need to learn how.
Ultimately feedback either makes you bitter or better. You get to decide.
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