During an internal learning session, a team member who I supervise gave me a piece of feedback. She said, “You get anxious and restless rather easily.” I was taken back because the feedback didn’t align with the kind of identity I have been trying to build for myself. “Really? Anxious? Me?” “Am I restless? Since when?” These kinds of thoughts started popping up into my head.
If I still had my older perception of seeing feedback as a means of attack, my team member’s words would have hit harder. It wasn’t until long ago that I found it hard to take feedback as I considered it synonymous with criticism, which I didn’t know how to process constructively.
After much learning, unlearning, and suffering inside my head, I realized that receiving feedback isn’t as bad. If anything, well-meaning feedback saves us from the disasters we invite upon ourselves by giving into patterns that don’t serve us, knowingly (because of our ego) or unknowingly (because of our blind spots). This is something Ray Dalio, the author of the book ‘Principles,’ emphasizes. When our ego gets in the way of understanding what someone is trying to tell us, it’s a good indicator that we are ‘unwilling’ to admit to and work on our unhelpful patterns.
Ego barrier is difficult to overcome because we see feedback as a direct threat to our identity. If someone gives us feedback, we’re likely to think, “Who do they think they are?” “I know what I’m doing. I don’t need anybody’s suggestions.” “I’m doing the best I can. She needs to change herself, not me.” “How dare they say that!” These thoughts can be louder and more coercive, especially when managers, leaders and supervisors get feedback from the direct reports.
I remember an instance when my team turned in a task after the deadline had passed. As I was discussing with them about what went wrong and how I as a supervisor could have helped them, one of the team members said, “As much as we should have been quicker, I suppose check-ins from you would have helped.” Before I could even process the feedback well, I had an immediate defensive thought, “Oh, so you mean, this delay has happened because of me? I’m the one responsible?”
But I caught myself immediately and realized that I had a part to play in the delay as well. As much as they were responsible for the task, so was I. Eventually, we discussed ways in which we could keep track of such tasks and prevent delays. This wouldn’t have been possible had I let my ego get in the way.
When it comes to the blind spot barrier, we may be ‘unable’ to even see that we’re giving into unhelpful patterns, let alone work on them. When my team member pointed out that I get anxious and restless rather easily, it seemed unusual to me. But, instead of taking it as a criticism or a threat to my identity, I asked her the context or situation in which it was true. She then helped me realize that whenever I co-facilitate the Emotional Intelligence course classes with her for high school students and the students don’t participate as I expect, it affects me.
I for sure knew I got disappointed when students didn’t participate or made noise, but I wasn’t aware that it came across as anxiety and restlessness to others. This small piece of feedback helped me manage my disappointment by incorporating changes in activities that allowed more participation, checking in with my colleague about the class progress before, during, and after the sessions, and most importantly, working on managing my own expectations.
As leaders, managers, and supervisors, we need feedback to grow and help our team grow. That feedback is available to us only if we can acknowledge that we have blind spots and ego barriers getting in the way of valuable feedback.
The author is the Linchpin at My Emotions Matter, an education initiative that helps individuals and teams learn the mindset and skills of Emotional Intelligence. Learn more at myemotionsmatter.com