Receiving Feedback: Why it’s Hard and How to Make it Easier

Feedback is a valuable tool that can help us grow and improve in our personal and professional lives. However, receiving feedback can be difficult, and sometimes even painful. It’s not easy to hear that we’ve done something wrong or that we need to improve in some way. In fact, our biology and psychology make it particularly challenging.

According to Pete Berridge and Jen Ostrich, coauthors of Feedback Reimagined: Transform Your Organization Through Positive Psychology and Social Support, our brains developed to keep us alive. When we receive feedback, the same areas of our brain that light up for physical threats also light up under social threats, like status. Therefore, it’s not surprising that feedback can trigger negative emotions and a defensive response.

Moreover, our brains have a negativity bias, meaning that we tend to focus more on negative information than positive information. When someone offers feedback, it’s natural to hear their words through a negative filter. This can make feedback conversations more difficult and make it harder for us to take constructive criticism.

Receiving feedback can also be generational. Millennials, for example, expect frequent feedback and feedback delivered in a certain way, which can be triggering for older generations who aren’t used to receiving a lot of developmental feedback.

So, how can we make receiving feedback easier?

Before giving feedback, it’s important to realize that feedback is relative and relational to the giver. What you’re looking for from someone might be different from what others are looking for from them. So, it’s essential to check your own assumptions and ensure that your feedback is based on a clear understanding of what you want to achieve.

When delivering feedback, avoid using the word “feedback.” Instead, set the conversation up by asking to debrief a few things or make a suggestion. Harvard research has found that the word “feedback” can have a negative impact on how people receive it. Instead, use forward-looking and developmental language such as “advice.”

It’s crucial to make sure the person understands your intent. Express that you’re trying to help them grow and be more effective. Additionally, make an effort to create the right setting by being willing to be vulnerable and admit some of your own mishaps. This helps to create psychological safety, which is essential for constructive feedback conversations.

In conclusion, feedback can be tough to receive, but it’s a valuable tool for personal and professional growth. By checking your assumptions, using forward-looking and developmental language, and creating psychological safety, you can make feedback conversations more effective and less painful. With the right approach, feedback can be like medicine that helps you get better.