Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour

Ep. #40 The Gift of Feedback - Even if it Hurts!

February 13, 2023 Jean Balfour Season 2 Episode 40
Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
Ep. #40 The Gift of Feedback - Even if it Hurts!
Show Notes Transcript

How much do you welcome feedback? 

Most of us know that feedback is helpful and yet it can often been difficult to accept.

In this episode Jean share her own experience of taking feedback badly  - and what she learnt from it.

She covers

  • Different ways feedback can 'land' with us
  • How to prepare for and accept feedback
  • When and how to seek feedback. 

If you are interested in coach training you can sign up to our newsletter to learn more about upcoming programmes.

Experience an Introduction to our Coach Training Programmes with our Free Taster Course:

Sign up to our newsletter to learn more about upcoming programmes:

Hi everyone and welcome to making sense of Work. How do you react when someone says, can I give you some feedback? Some of you will say, bring it on. I look forward to hearing it, but others might be a bit like me and really feel that it's a bit of a challenge. I'm much better now than I used to be at being open and not defensive, but I still have a lot to learn. Last week I read a quote from James Clear who wrote Atomic Habits, and he said The trick to viewing feedback as a gift is to be more worried about having blind spots, then hearing about them, and it got me thinking, and I thought it might be a good topic for this podcast. Before we get going, I have a couple of small asks. Firstly, if you would like to be kept up to date on podcast episodes, please sign up to our newsletter at It would also be really great if you could rate and review the podcast growing. The impact of any podcast is partly dependent on your reviews, and I would really appreciate your support. Let me start with a personal story. I vividly remember when I got my first 360 degree feedback. I got some great feedback, uh, including a few top scores and some really lovely things that people said about me. However, like most people I coach, I went straight to the negative and to one point in particular, my boss and my colleagues had all said that I could be a bit emotionally demanding at times, and this feedback was like a hit to my gut. I can remember seeing it. I can remember how I felt, and this is quite a long time ago. I remember denying it, being really defensive and then proceeding to cry for days whilst I told everyone I wasn't emotionally demanding. So quite a lot of irony there. Of course everyone who knows me knows that I am emotional, and so imagine early twenties Jean, no therapy Jean. Probably quite emotional. There was another irony about me receiving this feedback. I had designed a really sophisticated and thorough process that was based on people going through assessment centers and getting very detailed feedback on their strengths and development areas. And so I had been up to this point instrumental in giving feedback to about 60 people. I'd sat with them while they struggled with their. Areas, they're blind spots, and here I was deeply struggling. It was such a clear case if physician heal myself, I had expected everyone else to take it on the chin, but I hadn't been able to do this myself. This was an enormous life lesson, and after I stopped crying and finally calmed down, which believe me, took a few days, I slowly came to see that they were all experiencing me as emotionally demanding. And that probably I was, in fact, my reaction to the feedback about being emotionally demanding was to be emotionally demanding. So that was evidence enough in itself. I learned a really amazing lesson through that experience. And I have since then worked hard at being more open to receiving feedback and seeing the gift it holds. But that hasn't been a one-off lesson. I've, I've had to keep working at it and still, as somebody offers a helpful critique of something, I can take it a bit. Personally. I can smart, I have to breathe. I have to remember that usually the person's offering it as having my best interests at heart. So it doesn't always stop it being difficult. I've got better and I know now to say thanks for your help. Um, and yet I still have to keep working on it. This feedback is an example of me receiving some feedback that was in a blind spot in the hardest place, I think for us to receive feedback, but we can find it just as hard to receive positive feedback in a blind spot, or even positive feedback about things we know we do well, especially if we're not convinced that maybe we are so good or maybe we have a lot of, uh, issues with perfectionism and so, Receiving positive feedback can also have an impact. I've been thinking about this over the last few days as I've been thinking about this idea that we should seek feedback so that we have fewer blind spots. And I thought I'd share with you a few ways of thinking about this. So you could also think about how can I seek feedback so I have fewer blind. Feedback is such an important part of our growth, both in our personal lives and in our working lives, and yet we can avoid it. But if we avoid it, I've seen time and again that people really can stagnate in their career. Or they can end up in jobs that are not great for them because they're not seeing the whole of their strengths and not seeing the whole of their development areas Without clear feedback, we can be in the dark about what we need to do to progress, and so we've got this challenge. The feedback might hurt if we receive it. And without it, we might not progress in our career or you know, we may be in fact negatively impacting our colleagues without knowing it. When I look back to that, my most painful feedback to date, I can see how incredibly helpful it was. I can still be emotional at work, but when I am now, I'm much more aware of it. I can manage it, I know it impacts. And I can really minimize that. I can also be really open about it. In fact, a potential employee asked me recently, what was my most toxic leadership trait? What a great question at interview. And I of course said that I can be too emotional. So now it's no longer a blind spot. It's in the public domain. I know it, others know it. And then that means that if I become too emotional, people can kind of call it out. That's gently, and I can say, okay, I need to just go away and calm down. The challenge for us is that many of us are actually not getting the feedback we need in order to progress, either because we're avoiding it, because we are frightened of the pain or because our managers or colleagues are not great at giving feedback. And that's for another podcast. I will do a podcast on how to get really good at giving people feedback. But there's a group of us for whom this is even more exaggerated if we're in the outsider group at work. And by that I mean we are maybe a bit different to the rest of our team. We get reduced feedback. Often we don't get feedback. That's so helpful. Some work that was done in the UK by canola on the experience of people who weren't in the in group found that they didn't get as much actionable feedback. Whereas those in the in-group did, so for example, if you are a woman in a largely male team, the men are more likely to be told exactly what they need to do to improve their impact in a meeting, whereas the women will be more likely to receive feedback that's broad and not sos. Specific and perhaps not so helpful. So there are kind of two opportunities for, for us here. The first is to learn to get better at welcoming feedback and the other is to accept it and get it, and then go and get some more. To support this process, there's a model which I find really helpful and many of you will be very familiar with. It's called the Johari Window. It's called this because it was developed by Joe and Harry, and they identified four quadrants, which I'll explain now. In this model, we're looking at how much we know about ourselves and how much others know or see about. So we have a public box, which is the things that I know about myself, and you also know about me. So you now know that I'm emotional. You know it. I know it. It's public. It's in the public domain. And when we receive feedback for things in the public domain, actually, it's often easier to hear them. We also have a private box. These are things that we know about ourselves, but we don't share. So for example, many people I coach, many people I meet have some struggles maybe with negative thinking or with a bit of confidence, but they don't want to share that at work. Or even sometimes at home is private. They, they feel a bit vulnerable about it and they think it might negatively impact. we then have blind spots. So this is something that you see about me that I don't see about myself. Or it could be that I see it, but I don't really believe it's an issue. And so in my case, in this case, being emotionally demanding was definitely in a blind spot because I didn't see it as a problem. I probably knew I was emotional, but didn't see it as a problem. And then the final box is where there are things that I. See that you don't see, and we might call this the kind of subconscious or unconscious place. These actually impact how we are showing up often because they might be driving feelings or behaviors at work, but we are not aware of those, and other people are not aware of them. And we hope, and certainly it's my goal, that over our lifetime we learn to get better about these. But for now, they're mostly hidden from view. So when we get feedback, it can hit us in any one of these places. So as I've said, if it comes to the public domain where I know it and you know it, it's probably a little bit painful, but it's not a big deal. We might still be a little bit defensive, but we kind of know it to be true, and so it's easier to own it. If it comes to our private space, this is where it might begin to be a bit difficult cause we might be preferring for people not to see this. So especially if we don't have a high level of trust with the person who's offering us this feedback, it can feel quite uncomfortable. We can feel a bit exposed. For example, if we go back to the confidence issue, if someone sees that I'm lacking confidence and I wish they wouldn't know this, it might cause me to retreat, maybe become a bit more private, I might become concerned about how they're gonna use that information. Or the other side, of course, is. Be really grateful that they've brought it out into the open, and then we can talk about it. Our blind spots are where we don't see something that others see, and it's when feedback hits our blind spots, that it can be really hard. It's often where it hurts and it's often where we leap to defense and denying it. We push back often where we get feedback here. The challenges that, as James Clear said, feedback in our blind spots is a real gift because having blind spots is not good for our career. It can hold us back. And so the more we know about ourselves and our impact, the more we can be effective. As I've said, the fourth quadrant, our subconscious or unconscious, it's very occasionally we might receive a bit of feedback and we both look at it and go, huh, where does that belong? And we can be curious about that and look for ways for how we can perhaps bring things up to the surface that's gonna be happening much less often. As you've seen, learning to notice where feedback is landing when you receive it can help you to understand it. It can help you to understand the impact it's having on you, and you can begin to think about, ah, okay, that's because I was holding that private. Maybe it's time to bring it up, or maybe that's a blind spot. There's lots of images and information about the Jaha window on Google. It's spelled j o h a r i. If you want to go and have a look at it in more detail. So as we've seen, learning how to get better at both seeking and receiving feedback is a great skill, and I want to share with you a few ideas, particularly about how to seek it and how to receive it. So firstly, when we receive feedback, it is easy to feel really hurt and defensive and take it in a very personal way, and we might wanna run away and hide. This is our amygdala kicking into action. It's part of our brain telling us that it's time to protect us from harm. It's triggering us. Fight to argue about the feedback to flight, to run away or to freeze, which is kind of just to get stuck in it. And this is a natural place, but the problem is that when this happens, it can trigger us to head off into a bit of a. Spiral of self-judgment, criticism, and maybe a bit of pity or victim feeling like a victim. And what we want to do instead is get to a place where we can see that it's an opportunity for learning that it's there. And my encouragement here is to just be aware that. Kicked into fight, flight, freeze, and find a way, first of all, to calm yourself down. So if the feedback has come from somebody and you're really struggling with it, ask if you could just take a break and maybe come back to them in a couple of days, acknowledge it, thank them, and then go for a walk, write down the feedback, and again, to step back from it. Do some breathing, just generally calm down and. You can then come back to the person when you're ready to discuss it, when you come back to them again, thank them. Say thank you for the feedback. Uh, even if I was a bit defensive, I'm really grateful that you took the time to be giving me this feedback because there's a good chance that you will look back on it later and feel grateful for it. If it, the feedback was a bit vague. When you come back, you can ask for some specific actionable examples, or you can do this in the first instance if you're feeling well in yourself and maybe ask, what would it look like if I made some changes and improved? What you are wanting to do is get really clear about. What is it that the person is seeing? How does it show up and what would they like to be seeing? What would they like to be seeing? That's different. And then you can also look then at that feedback and run it through a bit of a test yourself. So firstly, check that it's correct. Sometimes people offer us feedback that's really about them. So for example, they may criticize us to being too picky about details in a project, but this might actually be because they're, no, they're not very good at attention to detail and they're trying to hide it. So we need to just look and say, Is this, is there enough evidence to show that this feedback is genuine and real and it's something I need to work on? And then if we accept the feedback has some substance, we can sit with it and decide how to work on this area of life. It may be like in my case, that I learned to notice when I was being too emotional and I learned some strategies to calm down, still learning them. So, for example, one of my strategies is just to say to people, oh, I notice I've got a bit emotional. Can we come back to this in a few minutes when I've calmed down? We could also check in with others. So if you've heard this feedback from one person and you've taken it and accepted it, you can perhaps chat with a few people you trust and say, I've had this feedback and I really want to understand more about it. Can you let me know how you see this? And if I was to improve this, what would you recommend I do? And what would you see? And you can also ask if you can touch base with them in the future and see how you're doing on it. And don't forget with all of this is that you can do all of this with positive feedback as well. So if you've had some constructive positive feedback about something and you are actually struggling to accept it, you can do the same thing. You can ask for examples of when it shows up and when you do it, and you could ask for examples of how you could con continue to demonstrate. Those are some ways of handling feedback when it's given to you, but sometimes we are not getting enough feedback and we need to go and get some because we need feedback in order to know where we stand. It's a bit of a benchmark and also to know how we can improve. So one way of doing this is to book time with a manager or a very trusted colleague. And before you meet with them, explain that you'd like some specific actionable feedback on what you're doing well and a couple of areas for improvement. And then when you meet with them, buy them coffee and sit down with them and be really. Notice the defense. Notice the natural anxiety about it, and listen. Ask for more examples. Make sure you are really clear about it. Afterwards, follow up with a thank you and also perhaps an email explaining your understanding of the areas that you're going to focus on. And then you can let them know that you would like to briefly touch base in a month to see how you're doing. Once a week baby, stop by for two minutes and ask the question, what's improved since we last spoke, and what do I need to keep working on? Any of those things, any ways that you can keep the feedback going, keep the feedback coming back to you. Another thing I've seen done very well, a few coaching clients have done this, is to send an email to a few trusted friends and colleagues. Choose people who you know are going to be direct and honest, and also people who know you well enough to give you real feedback. And in the email, explain that your. On a self-development journey you are wanting to improve at both work or at home. And ask them to share with you three qualities or behaviors or strengths that they really value in you and one or two areas that they think might be a blind spot or a development need. And ask them if they're willing to follow up with you afterwards, maybe to have a call so that you can get clarification on any areas that you would. To receive clarification on, I've had a few clients do this and they've found it incredibly valuable. They've been surprises both in the strengths and in the areas for them to work on, and because they asked people they really trusted, that was a really wonderful opportunity. Finally, there may be opportunities within your organization to get 360 feedback, or many of you would already be receiving this or to attend something like an assessment center where you get really robust feedback over one or two days. Now these can be scary. But they're also really helpful. And when you're going through it, you can think about me and how badly I handle mine the first time round and assume that you'll be, find it easier than I did. I've heard, uh, some senior leaders describe their first experience of 360, a bit like mine, and they've said how painful it was, and yet how it helped them grow enormously. So it's a real opportunity for you to grow in your career and in your life. Receiving feedback is such an important part of our growth in our career, and I hope you've seen through this podcast that I encourage you to embrace it, to be a bit less frightened of it. See it as an opportunity to hear about ways to grow, to improve, to progress and develop, and ultimately to help you to have a fulfilling work life.