What do tigers and getting feedback have in common?
Nic McClanachan, 1st April 2021

The irony of our brains being wired to avoid feedback is not lost on me, especially because I’m in the business of providing feedback.

Despite this biological challenge I know that feedback is where growth happens. It’s where improvements are made and it’s where lessons are learned. It’s the key to improving performance of both people and businesses.

Yet when we’re confronted with feedback, it more often than not provokes the primitive flight or fight mechanisms in our brain. And that’s because the same part of our brain reacts as it would when our ancestors faced a sabre tooth tiger!

Yep, that’s right. Despite the fact we’re not faced with immanent death, we have a natural and normal response of wanting to fly away or fight back when being given feedback.

Yet if we can face our own feedback tigers, it’s where growth is, where improvements are made, and where lessons are learned. The good news is that if we’re conscious of it, we can override our fight or flight wiring.

I recently have an example of how my 13-year-old son did exactly that.

My son started high school last year. He is one of those kids who makes you look good as a parent without you having to do much. He’s kind, and open hearted and funny and I swear he came out that way with very little influence from anyone else.

In addition to those things, my son is a bit of a perfectionist, which unfortunately probably is something he may have gotten from me. He’s doing incredibly well at school, he works hard, is focused and is very dedicated to producing good work. Late last year, he scored poorly on an art assignment, it was the first non-A he had received all year. And he was grumpy. He trashed the assignment. He moaned about art as a subject and even said something along the lines of “I think the teacher doesn’t like me.”

So I asked my son “have you asked your teacher for any feedback?” he was still pretty grumpy at this stage and he said “no, why would I do that, she’s not going to change my mark.”

I remember I took a deep breath and tried not to react to how he was responding “No probably not but if you do ask for feedback, how do you think it could help?” Now it wasn’t immediate, I probably had to rephrase and re ask that same question a couple of times before my son said, “It might help me for next time.”

I said something like “yeah, I think getting some feedback from her could definitely help you next time.” …….And I said nothing else.

My son never said anything further to me about any of this but because I have parent access to his school learning portal, I saw that he messaged his teaching saying “do you have any feedback so I can do better next time?” His teacher thanked him for asking, gave him great feedback and even gave him another chance to re-submit his work. He resubmitted it and got a B and now he’s getting A’s again in art. He told me recently that he’s really enjoying art.

My son is a good kid. He’s kind and open hearted and funny and smart. But when he got feedback in the form of a grade, his brain defaulted to putting up a fight and flying away. Because just like you and me, his brain is wired that way.

But with a bit of coaching, he allowed his willingness to want to do better next time override that and he got curious and asked the question.

If you want to improve your results, personally, professionally or in business, perhaps it’s time to get conscious around how you respond when you get feedback? Are you letting the primitive part of your brain win by fighting it or flying away?

Or are you overriding that default reaction, and facing your own sabre tooth tiger with an open and curious mind?

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