How are you at receiving feedback for your work? Do you take space to digest the message? Can you avoid taking it personally to look at the intent of the messaging you’re hearing? Sometimes I need feedback on whether I’m delivering the quality I believe I am in my work, and I noticed some of my conversations trigger a response when seeking feedback.
I need help recognizing when work is not clear, or an opportunity presents itself to develop skills and learn from someone who's been there as I stretch my comfort zone beyond what I can see through my own eyes. To understand why I would shut down in these specific conversations, I think it's best to define the differences between feedback and advice.
Feedback can be defined as” knowledge of the results of any behavior, considered as influencing or modifying further performance.” A comparison or “a reaction or response to a particular process or activity.” Advice, according to dictionary.com, is defined as “an opinion or recommendation offered as a guide to action, [or] conduct.
How can receiving either help the workplace or personal relationships when my initial response wants to protect my ego and be defensive if I don’t like what I hear?
Sometimes we want to offer advice after feedback without permission or asking a question, like, what are you going for with this feedback? This is the difference between giving feedback and giving advice on what to do. I don't want to focus on saving face but being mindful of our intent to communicate with each other.
Can we find someplace of shared understanding within the feedback that we're receiving because of its perspective? Suppose experience and knowledge are shared, and value is ignored by getting defensive and shutting down. Not accepting help from experience would be a lost opportunity to connect and gain knowledge or perspective.
On a recent episode of the Achieve Your Goals podcast, titled, What's More Important Than Goals?, host Hal Elrod asked a series of questions that got me thinking about how I process feedback and a recent conversation I had.
You wake up and commit to taking action, working toward a goal, committing to action and new behaviors, making a consistent effort daily, following through, and achieve your goal.
Would you feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in completing your work? Could that be a fulfilling result that you would want to share? Suppose our work isn’t resonating as intended or doesn’t match the quality expected. The difference between giving feedback and giving unsolicited advice on what to do can be the difference between a messenger having an audience to hear or triggering your audience to shut down and refuse new knowledge that would be a value.
Hal inspired me to think about my goal-setting journey and what is important to me. When aspiring to live a life of fulfillment and to utilize goal setting as part of our process to achieve more fulfilling connections and life experiences, these questions would be beneficial to ask before we seek advice.
Is it achieving the goal that brings you fulfillment, or is it pursuing a goal in which we experience fulfillment?
Is the fulfillment when the goal is achieved, or is it at night when your head hits the pillow? Is it during the day when you’re engaged in the right activities, the activities you committed to? Is that where your fulfillment is found?
Our network and community may be helpful but unintentionally triggering reactions because we may have found fulfillment in our work. I’ve noticed how unsolicited advice begins a tendency to defend my ego and justify why I did my work with someone who isn’t my intended source of coaching or advising.
In the book Conversational Intelligence, author Judith E. Glaser discusses the need to develop two areas that I think apply to relationships personally and professionally, "the ability to have uncomfortable conversations and the ability to ask 'what if' questions." Rather than reinforcing preconceived notions, asking more questions, and sharing perspective can help stir the imagination and encourage the difficult conversation that leads to change in behavior and adjusted new action. Judith says that "being able to talk about our frustrations and worries openly, without fear of retribution, is the first step towards building and sustaining trust." That trust can open us to hear critical feedback that sounds like this is not your best work, and I think you can do better. Perhaps harsher than that.
Feedback is not about telling you what to do. It's sharing perspective. In my opinion, advice is about helping understand what can be done better from experience and what are the most beneficial corrections from credible sources that have been there. Not trying to force actions but facilitating the conversation to discover what action needs to be taken to get from where you are to where you want to be. There's just one more thing to know.
I first learned of "advice monsters" from author Michael Bungay Stanier and his interview on an episode of the Science of Success podcast, The Greatest Superpower You Already Have. His newest book, The Advice Trap, is helping me understand what my advice monster is a little bit more now, and I'm already catching mine wanting to run loose when people ask me for my opinion or feedback.
According to Michael, there are three advice monsters: tell it, save it, and control it. "Tell it basically persuaded you that your job and, in fact, your vital job is to have all the answers." Do you catch yourself wanting to tell more often than not what people should do when giving advice? When it comes to save it, people put themselves on the hook "to rescue everyone. You can't let anybody stumble, or struggle, or fail, or get it wrong. In fact, your job is to make sure everybody is protected and safe at all times." The last is to control it. This one "has convinced you that the way you succeed, the way you win is to never give up control." Truly difficult tasks to be everything for everyone and to have the answers for everything.
The main thing to know here is the unintended consequences of our advice monsters running wild trying to tell, save, or control every situation we encounter:
“If you are on the receiving end, or somebody who every time you go and talk to them goes, ‘Here is my answer and my answer is the right answer,’ and just act on my answer, the message you're getting is you're not here to think. You're not here for you to grow, or to learn. You’re here just to do, just to implement what I’m thinking. Because you've got that advice monster driving you and that control it and save it and tell it piece, all of those states where you’re like, ‘To do that, I obviously have to be better than you, because if I’m trying to save you, obviously I have some form of superiority to you. If I’m in control of it, obviously I’m superior. If I have all the answers, obviously I’m superior as well.’” - Michael Bungay Stanier
The desire to seek validation or confirmation that we're delivering the quality we intend can lead to some difficult conversations. This tendency to want to advise on what to do, I've noticed, when seeking feedback for creative projects and contributions to a purpose serving the greater good, can derail momentum and trigger defensiveness if we aren't aware of the differences between feedback and advice. Help people calibrate and gain perspective on the direction they're heading. Create the safe space and trust to have these conversations first versus jumping straight into them if the trust isn't there. Take the space and ask one of these questions when responding to a request for feedback.
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