Does your mind classify every single action of yours into right and wrong? Do you often find yourself observing the mistakes someone does while presenting and immediately start making notes of areas they could’ve done better?
No human is perfect. Yet, we all strive for perfection. Our minds are consciously programmed to look for the wrong. Criticism comes very naturally to us. We are constantly involved in evaluating and providing feedback to each other including ourselves.
“Change is the only constant in life which helps us grow and develop.”
Feedback is what drives change, consciously giving it a priority is needed to stimulate change. In the 2015 World Championship of Public Speaking by Toastmasters International, Mohammed Al Qahtani rightly said “Words, when articulated and said in the right way can change someone’s mind or they can alter someone’s belief. A simple choice of word can make a difference between someone accepting or denying your message.” Hence, how you give feedback will either make the person better or break them forever.
Yet, don’t you think more often than not, we tend to attack the person rather than the situation through our feedback? Let us explore two types – a Person specific feedback and a Situation specific feedback.
How and Why Feedback Goes Wrong
Let’s consider this scenario for instance, Riya is a young 27-year-old, customer care head in one of the leading telecom industries. Her success is directly measured by the performance of her employees making her stay on her foot all the time. She’s upset with her new employee, Chang for speaking rudely to a customer who had been constantly blaming him for network issues. Riya walks up-to Chang’s work desk and says “Is that how you talk to a customer, Chang? I have seen you constantly speaking rudely to our customers. You are working in an esteemed organization now and you are the main reason behind the depletion of our customers over the past month. You have to work on yourself and your communication skills. If not, things are going to turn bad for you.”
The Effect of Person-Specific Feedback:
Ego & Esteem
Our ego craves validation all the time. Here, Chang’s ego is brutally hurt and his self-esteem lowers as Riya just devalued him and made him doubt his capabilities. Chang’s ego will never allow him to accept the feedback and change himself. In some cases of highly egoistic people, they might turn defensive and deny their mistakes by pointing out all the flaws in their bosses.
Internally, Chang’s self-confidence shatters and makes him avoid encountering similar situations further. However, there might be a few cases where Chang looks over-confident and shows to the outside world that no damage has happened to protect his image. The feedback results in a conflict with his self-image which instincts him to change the information, not himself.
The mind is hard-wired to protect the person. Therefore, Chang finds all possible excuses to deny the feedback. Irrespective of Riya’s intent, Chang perceives the purpose of the feedback to personally attack him, to defame him in front of others. Chang’s mind will not allow him to perceive the true purpose of the feedback and work on it.
Therefore, when somebody gives feedback with their words directly pointing out at the person, it makes the receiver defensive. The brain perceives the entire scene as an attack to threaten you which leads to either a fight or a flight response. You either feel hurt and small that you just want to run out of it with a scar forever or show the other person that you are more powerful than them by destroying their credibility to give you feedback. In both cases, change does not occur.
How Effective Feedback Works
If Riya focused on the situation more than Chang, she would say “Was that call from a very angry and irritated customer, Chang? I have noticed you receive such calls quiet often and are facing difficulty in handling them. I am sure you are aware of our organization’s reputation in the market. This reputation lies in your hands now. You are the face of the company as you deal directly with customers. You possess good communication skills, now it’s time to step-up one notch higher and improve your persuasive skills, this will make the entire conversation turn in your favor. There is a training coming up for the same this weekend, would you want to attend it?”
The Effect of Situation-Specific Feedback:
Ego & Esteem
Chang’s ego feels great as Riya entrusted immense value upon him by saying “Company’s reputation is in your hands and you are the face of it”. His self-esteem also increases as she pointed out his good communication skills. Not just that, she made him push forward to explore his capabilities by asking him to develop one-notch higher skills. This is called a self-fulfilling prophecy where one’s entrusted belief in you makes you achieve the same that makes Chang act immediately upon the suggestions to maintain his reputation.
Chang’s confidence shoots up which makes him feel very pleasant and will be more receptive to anything anybody says throughout the day as Riya’s words made him feel good about himself. The feedback increases Chang’s self-confidence which drives him to do everything possible to change and better himself.
Even though Riya didn’t specifically point towards it, Chang acknowledges his mistake and rude behavior. He perceives the purpose of the feedback to be out of pure concern, to motivate him to do better, to provide guidance, or to support him. He instantly agrees to attend the workshop because Riya gives him empathetic feedback.
Therefore, if you employ an empathetic approach to giving feedback the brain becomes very receptive. The entire focus automatically shifts on resolving the problem together rather than perceiving it as a personal attack.
The next time you want to give effective feedback to yourself or others, try to focus on the situation rather than the person. After all, the main purpose of feedback is to make one grow and be better.