Is criticism is a threat to survival?

Whether you have the formal title of manager or not, you will give and receive lots of feedback during your career. If you're like a lot of people, you have a difficult time doing either. Certainly, receiving feedback often stimulates our fight-or-flight impulse.

Does it have to be this way? Is criticism really a threat to our survival?

Of course not! That would be silly.

Our brains are, however, wired to see criticism as a potential threat and it is this underlaying fear that makes receiving feedback so difficult to take.

Feedback is also very hard to give. No one wants to be the difficult boss or cranky colleague. (Unless you already are, in which case, you are likely oblivious and that's a whole other post!)

Here's how to do it effectively.

When giving feedback:

  1. Be timely. There is no point in offering constructive criticism when it's too late for anything to be done about it. 
  2. Be clear. Don't use waffly terms that leave your colleagues scratching their heads, wondering what you mean. That isn't to say that you need to be abrupt or cruel, but be clear in the information you're sharing.
  3. Have good intent: You want to help, which is why you're giving the feedback, right? If you're offering your thoughts to blame, scapegoat or dodge responsibility, you'd do better to close your mouth and go for a walk.
  4. Be helpful: Is there something you can do to assist your colleague? Offer some coaching? Point them in the direction of some great training? 
When receiving feedback:
  1. Have an open mind. What's that expression, "if you're not learning, you're dead"? Whether you completely agree with the feedback being given or not, take it on and look for something you can learn.
  2. Don't be defensive. Our brains are wired to give more importance to something negative over something positive. This is likely a survival mechanism that taught us that something bad could threaten our survival. That's why we can hear 10 positive things said about us but will obsess about the one negative thing. 
  3. Don't be pressured into an immediate response. Take the information on board, but don't feel the need to respond right away. It's perfectly acceptable to ask for a day or two to think about what was said before responding.
There are, of course, many other factors that go into giving and receiving feedback, but these six tips will help you to be more effective (and avoid falling into fight-or-flight mode) whichever side of the feedback conversation you're on.

I'd love to hear your experiences with giving or receiving feedback. In your experience, what has made either a good experience?



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