Does the Thought of Feedback Get You All of a Flutter?

Does the Thought of Feedback Get You All of a Flutter?

There is an Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) presupposition which says “there is no failure, only feedback”. So why do so many of us fear ‘feedback’ so much?

Performance assessments, grading, observations and feedback are very much a part of so many people’s life. And unfortunately, as I know from scores of coaching conversations, for many these can be deeply negative experiences, whichever end of the process you may be on!

It’s not hard to see why; being assessed, or receiving feedback opens the door to that fundamental fear so many of us have that we’re not good enough, somehow lacking, and will be found out.

The anxiety and worry, that even the thought of feedback can trigger in us, can deeply affect our performance – our fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tim Gallwey, who wrote the Inner Game of Tennis, summarises this beautifully in an equation “performance = potential – interference”; our self-talk and fear (or inner game) is part of the interference.

My eldest daughter has just started her GCSEs this week – she has a punishing schedule of exams ahead, but nothing like as punishing as the high standard she expects from herself or how self-critical she can be if she deems her performance ‘not good enough’. I know this has been my own pattern in the past, set up in childhood by unconscious (and well-intended) parental reinforcement, and I fear I may well have inadvertently instilled it in my eldest daughter too in the years before I became more aware of the impact of my behaviour.

My heart goes out to all the young people right now sitting exams and assessments which give artificial and often arbitrary comparative gradings of ‘worth’. They are all so much more than a subject grade, yet at a time when their sense of identity is still forming and fragile they are subjected to huge institutionalised and one dimensional pressure which gives such a distorted reflection of their true worth as a human being.

But I digress slightly!

The key to releasing ourselves from the fear and stresses of receiving feedback of any kind is that it only represents a snapshot in time, from a very specific perspective. It is not the whole picture, it is not the whole ‘truth’. It may contain truth within it, but it is not complete.

And very often, the feedback comes through the filter of someone else who, with the best will in the world cannot be perfectly objective.

I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said “no-one can make you feel inferior without your consent”. I’d take it even further to no-one can make you feel anything without your consent. It is within your control, and no-one else, how you wish to take feedback on board. Feedback is merely data – it’s up to you the meaning or sense you wish to make out of it.

All feedback is a gift. It may not be a gift you wished for, wanted or find it easy to accept, but it is still a gift. So receive all feedback with a gracious “thank you” – that’s all that’s needed.

Imagine it like a huge party in your honour, with the guests bringing presents. You may not have prepared a wish list of gifts, so your guests can only use their own judgement about what you may like or find helpful. Perhaps they will give you what they perceive you need, or will be ‘good for you’. Sometimes these gifts will be beautiful and surprising. Sometimes they will be so lovely, you feel embarrassed and find them hard to accept. And sometimes they will be really hideous ornaments you hate. But the gracious host (you), will simply take all these gifts – good and bad- with a smile, a “thank you”, and promise to open and look at them when you are able to give them your full attention.

Then, in private, you can examine your gifts, and see what is really ‘you’ – what you can take on board, what is deserved; what may be helpful. The ugly ornaments may be consigned to a closet, ‘accidentally’ broken or donated elsewhere (or you could learn to really appreciate them)!

But regardless, you let the ‘gift giver’ know you are appreciative of their time and thought – and certainly you don’t take the quality of their gift personally!

From their perspective it may show great taste or value, so don’t cause unnecessary offense. But it really is up to you which gifts you allow to take up space in your home, ie your inner world. Don’t let someone else choose your interior décor; by all means listen to their advice, but the final decision has to be yours because no-one will be living more closely with the results than you.

I hope my analogy makes sense? Let me know – I’ll welcome any feedback!!

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