We’ve shared a lot about feedback in the past. Right from how feedback is both a verbal and non-verbal process, to receiving constructive feedback, and what to do when someone resists negative feedback. We’ve even looked at shifting our mindset from feedback to feedforward. Why have we explored this topic so much? Because 87% of employees want to “be developed” in their job. Yet, only a third actually receive the feedback they need to improve.

What’s the issue here?

It’s not about the ‘know how’ of feedback. According to neuroscientist Tessa West, “There is a strong culture of being nice to people. How good is the constructive feedback going to be, if the person feels a normative pressure to be nice during the interaction?” Psychologists call this “brittle smiles” – when someone wants to be critical, but feels bad about it, and over-compensates by smiling.

There’s a way out

West says – please ask for feedback. “When you ask, you’re licensing people to be critical of you,” she says.It may feel little more uncomfortable, but you’re going to get honest, more constructive feedback.” This takes a load off people’s shoulders.

West conducted a study to prove this. 62 employees at a major consultancy were called into a room in pairs, for a role-playing exercise. Participants learned that they weren’t assigned to be collaborators, but adversaries — opposing sides engaging in a negotiation, to buy or sell a biotechnology plant. They had six minutes to haggle over the price, and heart-rate monitors would track the argument.

When the negotiations were finished, each side gave feedback about his or her opponent’s performance. Some participants were told to give the feedback unprompted. Others were instructed to ask for feedback. Quietly, the heart-rate monitors listened, and here’s what it found:

If you want to make people anxious, tell them they will receive feedback. Or, just as bad, tell them they’ll be giving feedback. People feel nervous and jittery in both scenarios. It activates our primal fear of rejection. Even when giving constructive feedback, we fear that the listener will disapprove of us. And of course, the receiver wants out of the situation.

Asking for feedback changes this all

Say something like, “Would you be willing to share your reflections about my performance? I’d love to hear constructive and positive feedback.” This gives permission to be critical and is important for putting both parties in a psychological state that’s ready for negative news. Without it, the brain begins to shut down, and that’s not conducive to growth.

Whether about a specific task or your overall performance, asking for feedback can help you grow. In fact, this one practice can create a culture of continuous learning and improvement at your workplace. Would you agree?

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