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Feedback can set alarm bells ringing

Imagine you are walking alone on a quiet, dark street when suddenly you hear fast footsteps behind you. What do you feel? Under these circumstances, most of us experience the threat response (the impulse to fight, take flight or freeze). Similarly, neuroscientists have discovered that brain scans display the same pattern when people are told they are going to be given feedback.

Clearly, there are good evolutionary reasons for the brain to react in nano-seconds to perceived danger or threat. The amygdala, the part of the brain that has a primary role in the processing of emotional reactions, is triggered when we perceive threat. This is what has enabled us to survive.

Therefore, if we wish to receive constructive criticism to develop and achieve our potential, it is important to moderate our immediate threat response.

The LEARN framework for receiving feedback

BiteSize Learning has developed the LEARN framework for receiving feedback:

Listen. Really listen. Suspend judgement until the end. Practice Active Listening. Note the nuances of language, the exact words used, tone of voice, pitch, pace, volume, words that are repeated and those said with hesitation or caution. Be alert to the non-verbal cues, such as hand gestures, position, stance, facial expressions. Try not to interrupt, rehearse your response or counter the message.

Explore. Remain curious, stay in enquiry mode. Try to really understand. Use questions to elicit more information, “Can you give me an example?” “Do I always do that or is it a one-off?” “What would have been a better way for me to have approached it?” “When did you first notice it?” “Can you give me an example of when I’ve done it better?” “Have other people mentioned it too?” “What has been the impact?” “Is this a major issue or a minor irritation?”

Accept. Accepting does not mean rolling over and tolerating unfounded criticism, but it does mean accepting that someone has a different perspective to your own. You may want to indicate that you have understood by summarising their comments, “You think I was too informal in the way I introduced myself to the client.” “You want me to wear a suit and tie every day – even on dress down days.” “I understand – you think the number of errors in the report I sent to the Board made the department look bad.”

Respond. This is your opportunity to put forward your perspective, if it is different from the one you’ve heard, or to acknowledge the feedback as justified. You may want to say, “I understand that you think I was too informal with the client and I agree that it would have been inappropriate in most circumstances. I approached the meeting like this because we have been close friends since primary school and I wanted my behaviour to be as normal as possible.” Alternatively, you may simply say, “I’m sorry about the errors.  I messed up there.”

Notify. Encourage more feedback by letting the person know that you have acted on it. “Thanks for showing me the numbering function, it has saved me loads of time.” “I have re-read the new TUPE regulations and it is much clearer now. Thanks for the pointer.” “I’ve scheduled in time to get the report to you a couple of days earlier, to leave time to make corrections.”

Similarly, this model can be applied when receiving praise.

Making it Safe

Feedback can be stressful for the person giving it and many people avoid doing so for fear of the reaction.  You can make it safe for people to take the risk.

Moreover, high performers yearn for feedback (particularly about the things that aren’t going well) because it enables them to address shortfalls and replicate their successes. If you can develop a positive approach to receiving feedback you will reap the rewards.

We have a limited number of places on our free Taster session Giving and Receiving Feedback which will be held in central London on the 19th October at 9.30 AM. If you are interested in attending this workshop please complete the form below and we’ll get back to you.

If you are a learning and development consultant please call us on 0845 1233757 if you wish to attend.

Register for our Giving and Receiving Feedback Taster Session












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