Feedback (and Other Dirty Words) | M. Tamra Chandler

Summary of: Feedback (and Other Dirty Words): Why We Fear It, How to Fix It
By: M. Tamra Chandler

Introduction

Welcome to the exciting world of ‘Feedback (and Other Dirty Words)’, a book by M. Tamra Chandler that tackles our fears and mishandling of feedback in the workplace. Through this summary, you’ll discover why our brain reacts so negatively to feedback and how to counteract it. You will delve into the importance of trust, the power of noticing, and the benefits of seeking feedback from diverse sources. With a focus on a growth mindset and actionable tips for both giving and receiving feedback, this engaging summary will guide you in building a better, more productive feedback culture in your organization.

Unlocking the Power of Feedback

The mere mention of feedback can induce anxiety in many of us, stemming from fear of failure and past experiences with poorly-delivered feedback. However, when given effectively, feedback can spur substantial growth and improvement in both individuals and organizations. Despite its tarnished reputation, the majority of employees crave more honest and constructive feedback. In order to harness the full potential of feedback, it’s essential to recognize and confront the reasons behind our collective missteps in handling it.

Our heart races, palms sweat, and our mind overflows with questions upon hearing the words, “I have some feedback for you.” Though the feedback might be harmless or even positive, our defensive reaction exposes our struggle with handling it appropriately.

Feedback has long been mishandled, causing damage to employee morale and organizational growth. Ineffective leaders utilize it as a way to punish or manipulate staff with little regard for their well-being. Even well-intentioned managers hoard feedback to release it all at once during annual performance reviews, overwhelming employees. Likewise, as receivers of feedback, we often respond with defensiveness, challenging the facts, or pointing fingers at others.

However, feedback, when delivered properly, fosters meaningful improvements in individual and organizational performance. A 2018 study examining various performance management techniques in 57 US companies discovered that the most significant driver of measurable improvement was creating a Performance Feedback Culture. This approach focuses on training managers to give useful feedback and incentivizing them to follow through. Companies excelling in providing feedback experienced double the financial gains compared to those with the poorest feedback practices. Additionally, effective feedback was the management practice most strongly correlated with employee motivation.

Despite feedback’s negative reputation, the top complaint made by employees to management consultants is the lack of it. A 2018 global study by Officevibe revealed an astounding 62 percent of workers desired more feedback, while 83 percent appreciated it, regardless of its positive or negative nature.

It’s clear that people yearn for valuable feedback, and fostering a thriving feedback culture is advantageous for any organization. However, to establish such a culture, we must first address and overcome the issues causing our misguided approach to feedback. By understanding the underlying factors leading to these negative associations and experiences, we can work towards transforming feedback into a powerful catalyst for growth and success.

Taming Feedback Fear

Feedback can often trigger fear responses in our brains due to our evolutionary past and past negative experiences. The amygdala, responsible for these fear responses, can make it difficult for us to process feedback constructively. To help manage these reactions, techniques like focusing on our physical sensations and practicing 4-7-8 breathing can help us stay calm and engage our prefrontal cortex, leading to better handling of feedback.

Our reactions to feedback can be tied back to our evolutionary histories. The amygdala, a primal part of our brain, initiates fear responses in perceived threats. While these responses were crucial for our ancestors when faced with dangers like saber-toothed tigers, they are less productive in today’s modern situations, such as receiving feedback from a boss.

When the amygdala recalls previous negative feedback experiences, our minds and bodies go into overdrive. Our ability to reason and control emotions disappears, making it difficult to process any new feedback, even if it’s beneficial. So, how can we manage our fear responses and remain level-headed during feedback sessions?

One way is to focus on our physical sensations. Our brains can only engage one area at a time. When reacting with fear, the amygdala is in control. By consciously concentrating on our bodily sensations, such as the feeling of our feet on the floor, we can engage our prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for rational thought. This shift in focus helps suppress the amygdala’s fear response.

If you become overly anxious during feedback, practice the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Silently inhale through your nose for four counts, hold your breath for seven seconds, and exhale for eight seconds. This exercise not only shifts your focus but also slows your heart rate, helping you relax.

Though this technique is useful, it’s only a temporary fix. A long-term solution requires adopting better feedback approaches, leading to more productive processing of feedback and healthier responses overall.

Embracing Powerful Feedback

Feedback, when properly defined and approached, can be a significant catalyst for personal and professional growth. To receive or offer feedback effectively, one must ensure that it is specific, clear, and focuses on promoting improvement. Fostering a growth mindset by actively seeking feedback, being open to criticism, and adopting resilience can significantly enhance learning experiences and help individuals reach their potential.

Feedback can propel people and groups towards progress by providing clear and specific information that encourages development. Ambiguous remarks, such as “Keep doing what you’re doing” or “Follow Janie’s example,” are of little value. Instead, feedback should inspire action by offering precise insights.

However, the onus does not only lie on the giver of feedback; it must also be actively sought out by those seeking improvement. Waiting for feedback to come your way is not enough. Its primary purpose should be to support growth and inspire positive change, neither to flex one’s power nor belittle others.

Embracing a growth mindset can significantly transform your attitude towards feedback. According to Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, people can possess two types of mindsets – fixed or growth. Those with a fixed mindset view inherent qualities like intelligence and talent as unchangeable traits, while individuals with a growth mindset see them as starting points for further development. They are passionate about learning and exhibit mental resilience. Unlike their fixed mindset counterparts, growth-minded individuals actively seek feedback and view criticism as a learning opportunity.

By cultivating a growth mindset, you become more receptive to feedback and better equipped to learn from it. To enhance your response to workplace challenges, replace thoughts like “I cannot do this” with “I can’t do this yet.” If you find someone excelling in an area you struggle with, seek advice and remind yourself that with improvement comes tangible results. Embrace the power of feedback and embark on a journey of continuous growth.

Building a Strong Feedback Culture

The foundation of a robust feedback culture involves developing relationships based on trust, maintaining a healthy ratio of positive to negative interactions, and cultivating the skill of noticing without judgment to make feedback sessions more helpful and transformative.

Establishing a thriving feedback culture is rooted in building genuine connections and fostering trust among colleagues. People are more likely to value and act upon feedback when it comes from trusted sources. Therefore, investing time and effort in forging strong relationships with coworkers is crucial. Engage in active listening, be present during conversations, and approach others’ ideas and perspectives without judgment.

Drawing inspiration from Dr. John Gottman’s 5:1 ratio principle for happy and stable relationships, where couples should have at least five positive interactions for every negative one, apply this concept to workplace relationships. By increasing the proportion of positive connections, coworkers will benefit from a more collaborative and harmonious environment.

An essential but often understated element in feedback culture is the art of noticing. Noticing entails observing people and situations objectively, free from judgment or emotion. In the context of feedback, this means staying tuned in to coworkers’ experiences and focusing on current circumstances. By doing so, you can provide clear and factual insights rather than relying on annual performance reviews or secondhand information.

Noticing leads to more transformative feedback conversations by emphasizing objective details over blame or judgment. For example, instead of expressing disappointment in a coworker for not meeting a deadline, bring attention to the specific observation – being four hours behind on a project – and clarify any agreements that may have been breached. This approach fosters a more constructive atmosphere where coworkers can work together to rectify issues and improve performance.

By mastering the art of noticing, your ability to provide consistent, useful feedback will improve exponentially. Embrace this process, and experience the transformative potential of an effective feedback culture. However, some individuals may need to actively seek feedback from others. As such, exploring appropriate ways to request feedback is equally vital in building a strong feedback culture in the workplace.

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