Why is giving & receiving feedback so hard sometimes? (Or all the time)

There are so many thoughts and feelings that come up when you are either giving or receiving feedback. Why does feedback so often feel like a negative experience when it’s such an essential part of most relationships (both interpersonal and professional)? When feeling negative emotions surface from a feedback experience (whether you were the one giving or receiving it), have you ever examined why that is? Do you find yourself wondering why feedback is “so important?” Maybe you notice yourself resisting the feedback you’d like to provide someone? Or running away from a moment someone tried to share feedback with you?

Feedback matters for many reasons. For starters, feedback is a form of open communication, as well as effective listening. Feedback (when provided correctly) can open many doors of opportunity for growth and self-examination. When receiving objective information about ourselves or our methods of doing something… it can be a learning opportunity that can result in having more insight on yourself or behaviors. Feedback has the potential to fuel someone’s motivation and be a tool to improve performance. It can also help you avoid future mistakes, as well as provide you with tools to better current relationships, or future ones . If you were told out of context that you could become EVEN better at something you’re already putting effort into… you’d most likely be at least curious about that, right? And when you’re giving feedback, if done with mutual respect, it provides you an opportunity to tell someone “hey, I care about you and I see your efforts here but I might have some insight into how you could grow even further in this area.” When giving others feedback, it can be a way of showing interest in someone else’s well being or productivity. 

So why is feedback still so challenging, even though we understand how crucial it can be? 

Well, our brains are quite literally hard-wired to protect us from negative experiences! When we feel threatened we tend to retreat to where we feel safer or more familiar, and our subconscious kicks in to protect us. Speaking of the subconscious… we also tend to subconsciously make excuses for when we fall short of expectations, like attributing behaviors to external stimuli rather than looking inwards. This is completely natural in regards to human nature. It can also be natural to experience a bit of cognitive dissonance when receiving feedback, and this might be because our self-perceived (subjective) confidence will most likely always be perceived differently when objective. In other words, it’s quite common for our self-perception to be different than how others see us, which is another reason why gaining more insight or feedback can be so rewarding in gaining more self-awareness! 

So on one hand, feedback is important. But on the other hand, feedback is so difficult. We can give/receive all the feedback in the world… but it’s not going to be helpful if we’re just stuck on how it’s making us feel bad. So, how do we begin to challenge these cognition’s when we are met with resistance in giving and receiving feedback?

Begin by simply checking in with yourself and reflecting on where you tend to feel this resistance most often… is it when providing feedback or receiving it? Or both? Some specific instances might come up for you, use those examples to your advantage by reflecting on what the hardest part of those moments of feedback were for you. Below are some common pitfalls of giving and receiving feedback, find one that resonates with you and reflect on the way you could cognitively challenge this. Notice what comes up for you as you reflect and expand on it in your own way! 

Ways to cognitively challenge receiving feedback:

*Feedback doesn’t mean FACTUAL, it could just be a suggestion or a more effective way to communicate, complete a task, etc. 

*Feedback doesn’t have to be a “bad” thing, instead it could be a new outlook or insight into how to approach something (new insights=less blind spots)

*Feedback is a gift given by others who want to see you succeed and care about your well-being

*Learning from mistakes is a beautiful and necessary part of growing as an individual 

*Feedback doesn’t necessarily mean you’re “wrong”, it could just mean you have room for improvement 


Ways to cognitively challenge giving feedback:

*If you are someone who fears hurting people’s feelings, remember we are not responsible for other people’s emotions/feelings and cannot control how they respond, we are only in control of how effectively we communicate this feedback

*If you approach giving feedback from a place of care and compassion, rather than judgement, it’s likely a person will feel that genuine concern or authenticity 

*It is not always your concern/responsibility if someone does not follow through with feedback given

*You’re challenging the idea, not the person themselves 

*Others might feel more inclined to come to you for advice/feedback if they know you’re willing to give it


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