September 29, 2017

Change Your Relationship with Feedback

We have a love hate relationship with feedback. It is not an equally balanced relationship. We love to hear positive feedback and push ourselves away from what we perceive as negative.

We don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “I sure hope I get some constructive criticism today. Oh yeah, I can’t think of anything I’d look forward to more than a heaping of unsolicited constructive criticism.”

Teachability and Feedback

Last week, I wrote about teachability being the most important life skill because of the fragile nature of our knowledge and experience. Nurturing and developing a teachable spirit requires a positive relationship with feedback.

But knowing we need feedback and utilizing it is not easy because it is not how we are wired.


The human brain is wired to sense danger. It is natural for you to notice what is wrong and things that don’t match your personal reality. Because feedback, by nature, is likely to be a mismatch with our personal reality it gives rise to fear.

Fear kills feedback because it triggers preparation for a “fight.” In “fight mode,” the thinking and reasoning part of your brain shuts down. Thus it should not be surprising to learn that people who receive feedback apply it only about 30% of the time, according to Columbia University neuroscientist Kevin Ochsner, speaking at the NeuroLeadership Summit.

Relationship with Feedback

To learn, grow and improve requires feedback from a knowledegable and trusted coach. I recently listened to a conversation Shaka Smart had with Michael Gervais on his Finding Mastery podcast.

Shaka Smart is the head basketball coach at the University of Texas. He solidified himself one of the top coaches in America in 2011 when he lead a #11 seed, VCU, to the Final Four for the first time in tournament history.

Asked about his meteoric rise as a coach, Shaka referenced the critical nature of feedback.  He said, “If you want to accelerate growth and performance, you must change your relationship with feedback. Most people confuse feedback with negativity and fail to use it as simply data.”

Treat it as Data

Most people do not look at feedback as data—information rich in assessment capable of pointing us towards improvement. Rather, research suggests we tend to only focus on our positive attributes and discount messages we perceive as negative.

As a general rule, we do a poor job of evaluating our skills and performance. This is both dangerous and costly if we are committed to growth and improvement. And it gets more complicated and pronounced because we tend to push away from people who give us critical feedback.

Build a Positive Relationship with Feedback

Adam Grant, recognized as one of the world’s 25 most influential management thinkers said, “Once people take ownership over the decision to receive feedback, they're less defensive about it.”

If you want to increase nurture a teachable spirit and take ownership of your personal and professional effectiveness change your relationship with feedback.

Four Strategies for Nurturing a Feedback Loop

  1. Build your own mastermind group. Identify people who can help you in three ways. First, look for people who can accurately assess your skills. Second, identify experts that can help you close the gaps. Third, engage them only after determining they truly care about you and helping you learn and grow.
  2. Treat feedback as a gift. Listen like a beginner. Ask questions seeking clarification versus justification. Begin with the belief that the messenger's intent is positive. Take time to evaluate and assess what you’ve learned.
  3. Be grateful. Coaches will pour themselves into you if you acknowledge the gift of their time and expertise.
  4. Take action on what you have learned. What you learn will likely push you beyond your comfort zone. It is only on the fringes of what we are comfortable with that real growth and improvement occurs.

Feedback Leads to Greater Impact

“I think it's very important to have a feedback loop, where you're constantly thinking about what you've done and how you could be doing it better. I think that's the single best piece of advice: constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself”

—Elon Musk

No one wakes up in the morning and shouts, “I can’t wait to be mediocre today.” We don’t make plans to fail. But unless we develop and nurture a positive relationship with feedback we are constructing performance-limiting boundaries.

If you are serious raising your personal and professional impact, build a powerful and trustworthy feedback loop.

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