Beware the Bodysnatchers
Think back to all the people who have given you feedback over the years, not just in a work context, you could go back as far as school where a teacher informed you that you were ‘too quiet in class’. How much of that feedback has shaped who you are today?
Feedback is a gift. It is a piece of information that maybe you didn’t previously know about yourself that can lead to self-improvement and change. It is a powerful entity and can be used in great ways to develop others and empower them.
Many of us have learned from great feedback and have adapted the way we approach things, for example, my fellow Delver Sarah was once told she came across uninterested in meetings. Even though this wasn’t the case, Sarah made a conscious effort to suitably animate herself at the next gathering as this impression was the exact opposite of what she was trying to achieve.
However, sometimes feedback isn’t useful. One of our clients told me that she once received some feedback from a 360 tool, the feedback was that she talked too much, and people felt they had to listen because she was the manager.
Sometimes we receive feedback that educates us and sometimes it shocks us and leaves us feeling confused, or it can force us to put labels on ourselves that are just not true. How many times have you heard yourself say ‘I am just not cut out for this’ or ‘I am no good at this’? This can be a consequence of our own faulty thinking, or it can be a result of a piece of feedback so ‘generously’ shared by another that has since shaped who we think we are.
I was once told by a senior leader that I was ‘unprofessional’. The impact of this feedback was as powerful as a bodysnatching alien pointing its finger and screaming at me. For those generations who remember the 1978 film Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, when the pod people discover that there is a human among them, they point and emit a shrill scream and it is truly terrifying. Just like ineffective feedback, it leaves you slightly paralysed while you decide to fight or run away. I carried this label around with me like a pet for the next few years and when I was about to speak up a meeting, I would pause and think, ‘I best not, I might appear unprofessional’.
As coaches, one of the areas we regularly hear about is the impact of feedback. When someone chooses to impart a piece of information about us, the first thing to question is:
“Can I do anything about it?”
For example, if my feedback had been reframed into ‘Nicola, do you know when you said that in meeting X, it sounded a little unprofessional’, I would have been able to have a conversation about what I needed to do differently. This feedback is targeted at a behaviour that I can change.
The way I received the feedback however, wasn’t specific and was a direct attack on my values and personality, something I cannot change. I didn’t feel able to then have a conversation to explore it further because I was left in fight or flight mode.
Great feedback will not leave you paralysed, useful feedback will ensure that you can do something differently in the future. So next time you receive any feedback, ask yourself these questions:
1. Can I do anything about this? I can change my behaviour but not my values or personality.
2. Is this person qualified/credible to give me a valid piece of feedback? This is something worth exploring as people giving us the feedback are not always right.
3. What evidence is this feedback based on? Is this just a one off by one person? Or is there a pattern? Don’t let one incident shape who you are forever.
If after exploring it further, you decide you can take a different approach, then accept that wonderful gift and become a better person. Bad feedback can lead to self-limiting beliefs about who we are, so beware the bodysnatchers! Take care out there.
Coaching can support you in reframing poor feedback or acting on useful feedback. Contact Delve at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information.