Make Feedback Normal

Most of us have varying levels of comfort with receiving feedback. I’ve gone through periods of time when feedback felt really really scary quite honestly. I think feedback is the most scary when I’m feeling insecure about my work and performance.

Often, ego is at play. There’s research to suggest that our reptilian brains, the part of our brain that senses danger, is in overdrive. It’s in overdrive because that most primitive part of our brain used to be what told us to run from danger when a wild animal was coming for us in the wilderness. It’s a vital part of our brain because our reptilian brain communicates when it’s time to RUN rather than sit around asking questions about what species of lion is coming our way.

Since many of us are no longer being chased by lions (let’s take a moment to feel grateful for that), it’s not uncommon for our brains to misfire. We sense danger, but instead of an actual threat in our environment, it’s a threat to our ego. Sadly, we often can’t feel the real difference between a physical threat or a threat to ego. So, threat to ego feels scary and big.

Much of this information about the reptilian brain and the example about the lion I remember reading in Wired for Joy by Laurel Mellin.

I’ve had the honor of working with a cohort of teachers this year with a focus on developing leadership skills. We meet virtually, once a month. Having met around three times already, I really wanted to get their feedback: what was one thing that I could change to better support their learning?

The cohort is a smaller group – around seven. I didn’t survey them. I asked for them to talk to me. They had a lot of really good things to say. Some of what they had to say made me think, “Um, why didn’t I think of that? It’s so practical and obvious and needed!” And much of what they had to say will help me improve the learning experiences that I create in the future. In that session, I smiled, I nodded, I asked questions, I stayed open.

And later, I somehow found myself in a shame spiral. The “why didn’t I think of that” turned into, “You should have thought of that. You aren’t very good at your job. ______ would have had that figured out from the beginning. Participants would prefer to learn from ______. You should probably consider a career change. Participants are probably telling other people how terrible this experience has been, so it’s over for you…” (As if they are even thinking about me at all after the meeting ended, ha!)

It feels a bit nuts to type it all out here. But I’m sharing this for a few reasons. To start, when we acknowledge shame openly, it loses it’s hold on us to a degree. Also, writing about this gives me the opportunity to step back and look at it, as if from a third party, and see that it’s unproductive and that much of it is untrue. And finally, perhaps talking about it opens the door for others to realize they are not alone.

Because the truth is, feedback is scary when it’s an event.

Feedback is less scary if it’s a natural part of our daily conversations.

Feedback is less scary when we frequently experiene specific, positive feedback about our work.

Feedback is less scary when we get it from people who spend a lot of time seeing, knowing, and understanding our work.

Feedback is less scary when we feel known and understood and cared for as a human being before all else.

When I look back at the participant feedback, I feel grateful. Grateful that members of the cohort took the time to share honestly. “Clear is kind” as Brene Brown says. I feel grateful that they felt comfortable sharing. I feel grateful that they found the experience to be worth it enough to give meaningful feedback.

So, I decided to make my learning visible. I decided to share what I heard them saying and my planned action steps. I pointed out that I was being transparent with my learning because that’s how we stay accountable. That’s how we do better. That’s how we show learners that we are learning and growing too. Perhaps by modeling this, teachers in the cohort will commit to gathering frequent feedback from their students. Perhaps they will make their learning visible to students too.

Here is the commitment that I put in writing to them:

Thanks for your feedback! An important part of leadership is asking for and utilizing feedback. I want to make my learning transparent for this group. I am committing to:  
-Giving you a preview of the content before meetings, so you feel prepared to do your best.
-Providing clarity about the end game, where is all this work going?
-Sharing professional reading for those interested
-Creating a listserv, so you can stay better connected and well-networked with each other (November)  
Note: Are you making your learning visible for students? How might you gather their feedback hold yourself accountable by making your areas for growth visible?

I need a t-shirt that says, “Make Feedback Normal.” I don’t want to feel like I’m being chased by lions. I want to feel like I’m nourishing my heart, mind, and spirit as I work to evolve and grow into the best human being and leader that I can be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: