It’s Your Job to Grow

Feedback is a necessary ingredient to our growth. Think trail mix. I like nuts and chocolate, but hate raisins. If I want to get the most out of my trail mix, I will need to pick through it. Feedback delivered poorly, in the wrong context or at the wrong time mixes in some unwanted ingredients. In the mix we can miss the nugget of feedback that’s needed to become the person we want to be.

Leaders can learn to give feedback, we also must learn how to receive feedback. The challenge with feedback is that it can trigger an emotional response. When we feel threatened, we shut down or over-react. We miss our opportunity to grow.

Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, authors of “Thanks for the Feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well” describe three triggers to feedback people experience keeping them from finding the nugget within the feedback that helps them grow.

Truth triggers — we view the feedback as wrong, unfair or unhelpful. Thus we are either defensive, or completely reject the information.

Relationship triggers — we question the person giving the feedback or the relationship itself. Thus we can view the giver as less trustworthy.

Identity triggers — something about the feedback causes us to question ourselves. Thus we can think of ourselves as a ‘failure’ in case the feedback is true.

When someone tells you something that fundamentally challenges who you are or how you work, it can be easy to get defensive. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn from it. Here’s an example to illustrate this:

Heather walked into the meeting with the program director feeling confident with her list of ideas to address the challenges with an upcoming ministry event. However, the Director, Jennifer, assumed she had communicated her expectation for Heather to bring a documented plan that addressed the challenges. Heather expected a brainstorming meeting; but Jennifer was looking for a project plan. The meeting ended with Jennifer communicating some frustrated feedback to Heather about the importance of getting things done on time.

Diffuse the triggers.

Heather did not see the feedback as true >> it really was a mis-communication and Jennifer’s frustration was overreacting. She had met many deadlines in the past and was embarrassed that Jennifer would see her as someone who doesn’t follow through. 

Heather’s first step in receiving feedback well is to diffuse the “truth trigger” by recognizing that no one’s perspective is 100% true. Acknowledge Jennifer’s perspective as valid from her point of view but also that it is not the only truth regarding how to view this situation. Then, Heather can decide what she wants to act upon for her own growth.

When Heather leaps from “I didn’t get this done” (behavior) to “someone who doesn’t follow through” (identity), the feedback becomes personal. Recognizing this leap will help Heather to step back from taking it personally and diffuse the “identity trigger”.

Every feedback situation is an opportunity to grow even if it’s not accurate or delivered poorly.

Dissect the feedback.

Once Heather diffuses her triggers, she can ask herself questions about what she wants to learn. She recognizes that she is more of a dreamer and idea person and Jennifer is more of a methodical, pragmatic person. In recognizing that, she learns that she can ask clarifying or confirming questions when tasks are being assigned to avoid future miscommunication. 

While our example walks Heather through her diffuse and dissect process, Jennifer has the same opportunity to grow and learn how she can improve her communication and her responses in future situations. 

Next Steps

Remind yourself that having growth areas is a good thing— it means you haven’t maxed out on your potential. Engage your own diffuse and dissect feedback process . . . 

  1. Reflect on feedback you have received. 
  2. What are your triggers in this situation? How will you diffuse the triggers? 
  3. Now, dissect the feedback. What is the nugget that will help you grow? 
  4. Pick one area where  you want to grow that leverages this feedback.

Join the conversation in the comments and share ways you manage critical feedback or how you experienced feedback delivered poorly and STILL learned from it.


Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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