From her batch of 600 students, Zara was one of the few who cleared the challenging campus recruitment interviews successfully with one of the biggest corporates in Bangalore. She was an overachiever and couldn’t wait to kick-start her newest adventure! On some level, she perhaps did not realize that being an academic topper and being a topper at work were two very different ball games.
She dedicated all of her time to her work but somehow still felt challenged with the stress the transition from campus to corporate brought to her life. Her only motto was to ‘be the best’ in all that she did. The concept of mentoring, coaching, working collaboratively and even ‘constructive’ feedback was not something she welcomed. According to Zara, feedback was meant for people who did not perform well. Little did she realize that, constructive feedback could be used as a tool to excel.
Ram, her manager, was often pleased with Zara’s drive to excel at any task he put her to. Recently though, he noticed her struggle at work alone with meeting deadlines and working the clock unnecessarily. He wasted no time and called Zara in for an open discussion. You cannot imagine Zara’s shock when Ram started giving her constructive feedback! She always thought she was doing a great job and it was very difficult for her to embrace the fact that her manager did not think so. After a point, she lost confidence and was left with deep wound and a bitter grudge against Ram. She eventually moved into her own protective shell and never quite recovered.
Have you ever been in Zara’s shoes at any point in your life?
Receiving constructive feedback is a skill. Constructive feedback can help underperformers and performers do a better job by sharpening the skill. It is like a growth hormone if accepted the right way .Otherwise, it could lead to a fight, flight or freeze response – just like in Zara’s case. There are few fundamentals that one should meet for constructive feedback to play its desired role:
F – Focus with an open mind
Zara was reactive; she felt attacked with any sort of constructive feedback, as she firmly believed it was for people who underperformed. When she started getting one, it became very difficult for her to imbibe. She got defensive, which made her question her abilities and she eventually started underperforming without her knowledge.
One of the fundamentals for feedback to act as a growth hormone is to have an open mind. Try to focus on the source and the intention rather than the person who is giving feedback. Even though constructive feedback may sometimes feel like you’re being condemned, do not react. Let it sink in, and then decide what to do.
E – Emotions under control
While Zara worked well under pressure, criticism made her feel embarrassed dejected and it affected her performance at the office. Controlling ones emotions is another fundamental rule, which can help constructive feedback act as a growth hormone.
It is quite natural to get emotional when you seem to be targeted, especially by people we work to please! Emotional processes can be loaded with feelings of embarrassment, fear, sadness, anger, shame and sometimes-even ridicule. Most often, these emotional reactions are short lived. The problem arises only when they linger on, hampering the productivity of that employee.
E- Effective Listening
Zara listened to Ram, however she did not listen to understand. The assumptions she made eventually took its toll on her. Focusing on the problem at hand is key. This can turn any constructive feedback into a highly effective growth hormone at work.
Effective listening is probably the most important element to growth. It is important to hear the person out, and listen to what they are really saying, not what you assume they are saying. This makes it easier to absorb more information instead of focusing on what you are going to say in return.
D – Don’t be offended
When Ram started his discussion with Zara, she least expected the feedback to be constructive. As the discussion started to touch upon improvement areas, she started taking it too personally, which left her empty and distracted. Not taking things personally and not getting offended is another fundamental rule that can help constructive feedback act as a growth hormone.
We have a natural tendency to take feedback personally and we tend to get offended very fast. One should be willing to be vulnerable to go deeper into the ‘hows’ of the feedback instead of focusing on the ‘why’s’ as per the Iceberg principle by Freud. Of course, the choice is yours, you can always choose to accept it or reject it later.
B – Be judicious
Volume, Energy, Speed (Rate of Speech), Pitch and Attitude are few things that Ram took care of while he spoke to Zara. On the other hand, Zara got defensive, and eventually became silent, which of course did not yield any fruit.
It is very important to use non-defensive body language while receiving feedback. Verbal cues and non-verbal cues like eye contact, speaking at 110 – 150 words per minute, appropriate tone and having the right posture are few examples of open body language. As a receiver, asking for specifications is very important. This gives us clarity and a path to move forward. Remember, constructive feedback can help us groom for better.
A – Acknowledgement
Throughout her conversation with Ram, Zara chose to remain silent. This gave them no room for a complete discussion. Eventually, it turned into a one sided conversation and a strained relationship between the both of them.
Acknowledging what is communicated to you, especially before replying, is important. Listen actively by recapping key points so that you know, you have understood it correctly. Once you have got the message correctly, go ahead and acknowledge.
C- Check for deeper understanding
Zara was disappointed as she failed to understand the core message Ram was trying to pass on. She thought Ram was trying to dismiss her efforts and she eventually shut down. Zara always wanted to be the topper but she never kept the big picture in mind. On the other side, Ram wanted to help Zara understand her career vision better. The communication between them miserably failed because Zara did not understand the deeper message.
Open-ended questions can lead one to uncover an underlying problem we did not even know existed! On the other hand, no questions at all, can lead to an unhealthy atmosphere; as the person who is giving feedback will not feel welcomed.
In a group environment, ask for others’ feedback before responding. Be explicit as to what kind of feedback you are seeking beforehand so you are not taken by surprise.
K – Keep end goal in mind
Do you remember what Zara’s goal was? She wanted to be the ‘best’ at everything she put her hand to. This was not a structured goal to have, and she never gave herself a target either. One of the target Zara should have kept for herself was to develop Resilience (process of adapting well in adverse situations).
All of us have goals we want to accomplish to succeed professionally. These realistic goals will give us a target to focus our efforts on rightly. When we deviate from our end goal, that opportunity to excel is lost. . Constructive feedback can be used as a stepping-stone to achieve them.
It is possible that all Zara was missing was the will to see constructive criticism as a ‘growth’ opportunity. It’s hard to blame her as it can be emotionally draining when we so often see it as a personal attack. Constructive criticism has a tendency to make us defensive, but it could also be the golden key to our professional growth and untimely success.
Maybe it’s not too late for Zara to learn, and maybe, not late for us too.