When Bob Kegan, Ph.D. spoke at the 2016 NeuroLeadership Summit in New York and said "Feast on your weaknesses or starve on your ego," I took special note. The topic of discussion was Feedback That Works, and the message being delivered was "Stop Giving Feedback." I was intrigued.
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Research from the NeuroLeadership Institute reinforces what many of us already know. Feedback, at least the way it happens in most organizations today, puts people in a threat state, and makes it less likely that they will actually hear the feedback, and then take constructive action to: 1) contemplate the message, 2) ask thoughtful questions, and then, ultimately, 3) make any adjustments that might be required as a result of receiving the feedback.
They'll be so focused on the threat that their neural resources will be used up defending themselves (starving on ego) rather than in maximizing the opportunity to learn and grow (feasting on growth). Since feedback often only happens around Performance Management discussions, it is inextricably associated with all of the other negative repercussions of traditional PM.
There are two major concerns with the way feedback typically happens in organizations. First, it is GIVEN, not sought. Second, it is linked to the cycle of Performance Management (which for many organization, is also linked to "success" in the organization, including level of remuneration and qualification for succession opportunities).
Feedback is simply another way to gain insight into opportunities for personal learning and growth
The answer is, indeed, to "stop giving feedback" -- and to start asking for it!
Yes, you read that correctly! Instead of relying on others to "evaluate" you, to indicate what is going well and what is not, why not ask for it -- regularly. And don't just limit the asking to your immediate supervisor -- ask everyone you interact with at work. Treat feedback that you hear as the gift that it is: insight into others' experience of you and your actions, and the opportunities available for you to continue to learn and grow as a human being.
If you are asking for feedback, and you hear that feedback as critical information that will HELP you to learn and grow, then your brain will automatically be in a positive (reward) state rather than a negative (threat) state.
This will also support all of the ground-breaking research from Carol Dweck on Growth Mindset. Choosing to believe that you can continue to learn and grow throughout your life, automatically makes you more curious, more engaged, and more resilient. Feedback is simply another way to gain insight into opportunities for personal learning and growth. You win, your leader wins and your organization wins.
Here are some simple strategies to help you to feast on growth:
- Choose to believe that you can (and will) continue to learn and grow throughout your entire life
- Approach key individuals in your organization and agree to engage in a two-way dialogue about feedback; ensure that each of you ask for and then share important information that is focused on helping eachother to learn and grow
- When someone offers to give your feedback (and you have not asked for it), frame the feedback as a gift. Choose to look at the enchange as an opportunity for you to feast on growth (so you don't starve on ego).
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SITUATION: Your boss gives you critical feedback HOW YOU REACT: You direct your negative thoughts towards him or her, rather than self-evaluating yourself. You may also think people are jealous of your work ethic and ideas, or you think they dislike you
SITUATION: Someone gives you criticism at work HOW YOU REACT: You direct your negative thoughts towards yourself and think you're a 'bad' employee or incompetent
SITUATION: A co-worker calls you out on an assignment or typo HOW YOU REACT: If you're responding to others, this criticism will make you feel angry, bitter and resentful
SITUATION: You get criticized, but take it very personally REACTION: After the incident, you feel upset or embarrassed about the criticism, and don't feel like yourself.
SITUATION: You get criticism and lash out REACTION: Instead of rationalizing with the critic, you decide to argue back, possibly even threatening to quit
SITUATION: This response would definitely be the worst. REACTION: Instead of working on your flaws or talking it out with your critic, you completely ignore them and continue with your actions. You might purposely slack off, secretly look for a new job and not make any of the recommended changes
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