Neuroscience is telling us that our brain likes feedback to improve but also feels defensive when being criticised. Dilemma? It is good to hear others’s opinions about issues and choosing the best decision. So how do we tone down the defensive reaction and listen to ideas and feedback to assess their merit regardless of the source? Ideas and solutions can be seen separately from the person proposing them. Easy to write but hard to do. Humility from the source helps to accept and assess the content. An ability to see ideas as just ideas also helps. DeBono would call it green hat thinking. Mindfulness also helps by showing ways of seeing thoughts as merely thoughts and not criticism or provocation. Try radical transparency. Say what you mean without being mean.
Have you noticed how hard some people try to avoid boredom? They don’t want to be alone with themselves. They can’t sit quietly doing absolutely nothing. They will find something to do however trivial. There do seem to be huge benefits that come from doing nothing or being bored. Our brain gets freed up to be creative. Some real insight can come in the shower or when sitting waiting for a train providing we don’t fill the space with activity. Try it. Next time you need to travel or wait, think about nothing for as long as you can. You might be surprised at what enters this vacuum providing it is really a vacuum.
Fear is not even an excuse. It is a feeling. It is normal. Your attitude to this fear can become a problem. If you allow the experience of fear to stop you from doing what you really want to do, then you are giving it too much power. It is simply a warning. Sometimes you can go ahead despite the fear and sometimes you should heed the warning and not take the risk. Some activities are inherently dangerous and should be avoided. Speaking in public is not one of these. You may get a strong feeling when asked to speak to a group but you know that the activity is not dangerous. You can go ahead despite the feeling or the unhelpful thoughts. Acknowledge the feeling and go ahead anyway. The more you speak in public, the less the impact of the fear on your performance. You aren’t conquering it. You are learning to live with it and softening its impact when you need to. You can practise in your mind. Imagine getting up in front of a large audience. Breathe calmly and slowly. Keep doing this until you don’t get a reaction.
Not everyone has a voice. I mean not everyone is comfortable to speak in front of a group. Some people do need to speak for others. Silence usually follows a work request at a meeting like ‘Does anyone have anything to say about this proposal?’ Use your voice whenever you can. Staff meetings, family occasions, training sessions, dinner with friends. Say what needs to be said for the benefit of all present. Put the fear to one side and speak for the group. The next time someone leaves your organisation or retires, say something that they will remember for the rest of their lives. Don’t let fear hold you back.
This is a terrifying question, don’t you think? Almost as terrifying is ‘Can you give me some feedback on what I need to change’? Sometimes feedback is vague and unhelpful. We can make it more specific by asking questions like ‘what specifically do you want me to change?’
Before asking this question, you need to be prepared to accept what is said. If you defend yourself, you don’t get any benefit or detail. Try this…
Breathe in just after asking the question.
Tell yourself that the feedback is to help you improve and is only about your behaviour, not you personally.
Tell yourself that it is better to get the feedback directly to your face than behind your back.
Be grateful that this person is trying to help you.
Remember there is no progress without feedback of some sort. It is all neutral and sometimes the feedback that we may call negative is the most helpful.
You have got nothing to lose by asking ‘Can you give me some feedback on what I need to improve or change?’
We all know the likelihood of change occurring when we give someone negative feedback which they interpret as criticism. ‘Can I give you some feedback’ is a question few people like to hear. I call this outsight. I tell you what I see and hear in the hope you will change. Insight is when the other person realises the impact of their behaviour on others and finds the motivation within themselves to make changes. Telling is outsight. Asking helps the other to get insight. Questions help the other person to look at their behaviour and leaves it up to them to make changes. Questions about the consequences of their behaviour, help them see their behaviour through the eyes of others. A brave question to ask others is “Is there anything about my behaviour that you would like me to change?”