The word Feedback will either strike fear into your heart or maybe fill you with anticipation, perhaps depending on your past experience.

What is it?

First of all, what does it mean? I’ve found many definitions, all saying slightly different things The underlying theme is that there has to have been some kind of judgement before feedback can be given. And, I think this is where it can get tricky as this can be such an emotive thing and we start to get into the realms of ‘feeling’ judged (a very emotional response) or ‘being’ judged (much more factually based). It’s useful to consider ‘feeling’ judged as something we choose to do in response to something someone has said/written; whereas ‘being’ judged is held entirely outside of us and we may choose to accept the feedback or not. Often, this can be based on our past experience – maybe a subject for another day.

Feedback is a part of life for us all. Someone admiring your outfit is feedback. Someone commenting on your driving skills is feedback!?!? Your partner/friend’s opinion on a meal you’ve cooked. A manager taking your through your performance at work. In it’s most positive form, it’s a really useful thing to help us stay balanced in life. We live in a world with other people (even if not in the same household) which has rules and often the feedback is based on whether or not we’ve met those standards expected, or whether we’ve ‘broken’ one of the rules.

Often, our response can be quite emotional and we might become defensive, deny or justify what’s being said Sometimes we accept it on the surface whilst inside we’re reeling. We might not even be aware of why we’re responding in this way, but something in our unconscious just clicks in. If your response is as above, you may well feel physically as well as emotionally vulnerable as your nervous system responds automatically with brain chemicals released into your body.

How can we respond diffently?

  • The first step might be make sure you feel centred (ooh, let’s do a post on that soon) so you won’t wobble (either mentally or physically)
  • The next step might be consider whether the person giving the feedback has the credibility to do so. This might also be linked to whether or not the person is genuinely trying to help or simply venting their own emotions
  • Then, check out why the other person thinks the way they do. Is it something they’ve directly observed/experienced; are they missing some information; are they fully informed? It may well be that, in the course of conversation, other opinions may be formed.
  • Noticing emotions that arise without our own judgement. They’re just that, emotions, and we don’t have to act on them. Often, being present with our emotions, whilst being a little uncomfortable, can bring insight and wisdom. Perhaps get curious about the emotions. One of my favourite phrases to use with clients is ‘ooooh, that’s interesting’. No judgement, just bringing a level of curiosity that allows us to look at the feedback from all angles and dimensions before we decide what to do next.
  • Finally, choosing whether or not to accept the feedback. Just because someone says it, doesn’t mean we have to own it. It might simply be that person’s opinion and after we’ve considered if it indicates something that needs to be adjusted, we can choose what action to take.

Best ways to give feedback

What if you’re in the position to give feedback? There are some really easy ways to make feedback part of a conversation rather than a ‘telling’ which allow the person receiving the feedback to feel valued, heard and like they can explore what’s being said, even if it’s clear that there must be behaviour change.

  • Before you begin, check your motive. Is this really about helping to create change or are you reacting to something inside which will make things more emotional?
  • Be really clear what you want the outcome to be. Obviously when there are other people involved, you can’t control their response, but having clarity on what you want as a result of the feedback can help you phrase and time things well.
  • Be very specific and focus on the individual’s behaviour. Telling someone they’re selfish because they never have time for you really won’t be helpful. Telling someone that you really value it when they listen to how your day’s been and you’d like to have ten minutes each evening to share experiences is much more specific and likely to get what you set out to achieve. It’s also less likely to ‘snag’ for them, ie begin to produce an emotional response from them.
  • Ensuring that you seek the other person’s views is crucial. ‘What have you noticed?’ ‘Were you aware?’ ‘What are your thoughts on what we’ve discussed?’ are simple questions to keep the conversation flowing and ensuring that they feel heard. And, make sure you include information on what they person does well too, even if there are areas for change.
  • Finally, make sure you agree on what the next steps will be. Whether in a professional setting or at home or with friends, making sure there’s agreement on outcomes is important or the next conversation you’ll be having will be about why things haven’t gone to plan.

I know giving or receiving feedback isn’t always this controlled and sometimes it happens ‘on the hoof’. This means that we can’t always be as prepared as we’d like to be. However, developing that sense of being and remaining centred can really help. It means we’re not as easily ‘floored’ which is when we’re more likely to react from our limbic brain with a ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response. It also might allow us to come from the anticipation end of the spectrum that we’re about to receive some information that might help us. Hope you’ve found that helpful!

PS – the often used ‘SH*T’ sandwich that was taught on all the upmarket business courses has definitely gone out of fashion now. (start with something positive, chuck in the bad part in the middle, then end with somethine posivite) Everyone knows the tactic; noone listens to the positive as we’re all waiting for the ‘SH*T’ in the middle. I’m not saying that all feedback has to be negative/bad, and of course we all like to hear the good things too, but finding a different way of framing whatever we need to say is a much more respectful way of communicating.

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feeling centred regarding decision making and feedback