People tend to be really bad with feedback. Both giving feedback and receiving feedback. And on really a wide range of topics.
Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister has written that “Bad emotions, bad parents and bad feedback have more impact than good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to disconfirmation than good ones.”
This may be in part because of neurochemistry, as Judith E. Glaser and Richard D. Glaser explain in the Harvard Business Review: “When we face criticism, rejection or fear, when we feel marginalized or minimized, our bodies produce higher levels of cortisol, a hormone that shuts down the thinking center of our brains and activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors. We become more reactive and sensitive. We often perceive even greater judgment and negativity than actually exists. And these effects can last for 26 hours or more, imprinting the interaction on our memories and magnifying the impact it has on our future behavior. Cortisol functions like a sustained-release tablet – the more we ruminate about our fear, the longer the impact.”
In addition to the severe implications for those who experienced trauma, this chemical reaction has an important role in our daily lives as well.
Coupled with the challenges many of us face in accepting compliments, it can seem nearly impossible to process critical feedback in a productive way. It’s easier to deny or discredit your accuser.
This is one of the challenges at the root of white fragility – that is, when white people shut down rather than acknowledge that something they did or said was experienced as racist by a person of color.
But the experience is more universal – it is a subtle, persistent reality of every day life.
Our smallest actions can have a profound impact – both positive and negative – on those around us. But too often, we are unaware of the experiences we are leaving in our wake. How could we unless someone told us?
Feedback is one of the most cherished gifts a person can give you. They may be thanking for your words, or explaining why your actions were harmful. It may be a compliment or it may be criticism. But either way, we should appreciate what a remarkable gift it is.
When someone gives you feedback, they share a moment of their world with you. A moment you could not have seen by yourself. That is amazing. It is beautiful.
I want more of that, not less.
I want everyone to share little moments of their world with me.