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Decoding Feedback Triggers

People have shared plans with me on how to change and fix my life. I've heard ideas and suggestions for me to improve and make me successful. I've heard it all and I heard it before I could even spell the word "feedback". However, it wasn't what I was hearing that was bothering me but the fact that I was hearing the same things over and over again.

For two full decades, I ignored the numerous pieces of feedback that came my way. I'm not saying that we shouldn't ignore some pieces of feedback, but at least I needed to understand it before I took that decision. That was not my case. I was receiving the same feedback over and over because every time I received feedback that I didn't like, I used to ignore it. I thought I wasn't but I most definitely was. When I would ignore feedback that was given to me, I used to think: “She doesn’t like me, that’s why she is saying that”. “He doesn’t know me. In my context, this feedback doesn’t make sense”. “He is telling me that but he does exactly the same thing”. I always had a way of rationalizing it.

When I hear something that I don't like, a trigger gets pulled and my response is automatic and defensive. Triggered reactions are obstacles because they keep the receiver away from engaging skilfully in feedback conversations. But pushing those reactions aside or pretending they don't exist isn’t the solution. Today I understand that I've been facing problems with relationship triggers and identity triggers. These triggers create the thoughts that don't let me receive and process the feedback that I need to.

Feedback is best done in person.

Relationship Triggers

When we react due to the relationship we have with the feedback giver, our focus shifts from the feedback itself to the person giving it. This is a relationship trigger. When this kind of situation arises,  the focus becomes the issues around the relationship and the original feedback somehow gets lost. The topic of "who" defeats the topic of "what" and the feedback is blocked/ignored.
The way to avoid relationship triggers is to disentangle the feedback from the relationship issues and to discuss them both, clearly and separately.

Identity Triggers

Identity triggers are all about us. It doesn't matter the nature or credibility of the feedback, something about it has caused our identity to come undone. When critical feedback puts our future under attack, the security alarm goes off and we know that the identity trigger is pulled. When that happens, we usually get defensive. We need to defend what we believe is best for us. We ignore the feedback because we don't want to put our vision of "who we are" and "where we are going" at risk.

The best way to avoid identity triggers is to expose your expectations, dreams and ambitions so the feedback can be better redirected.

My Journey of Change

I've been mapping the triggers that get tripped when I receive  feedback. This usually happens after the feedback session because during the conversation my emotions are still controlling me. Until I am able to map and identify the triggers during the feedback session itself, I ask the feedback givers for a second meeting when I can't completely understand the feedback.

My recommendation is for all to do the same. When you know that you somehow blocked the feedback because of a triggered reaction, schedule a second feedback session as you leave the session . Besides, if you want to understand more about feedback triggers you should read the book: Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well

Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.

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