Constructive feedback from colleagues and clients is essential in developing effective corporate leaders. In fact, the most successful executives I know are comfortable, even eager, to use feedback to improve their leadership effectiveness. While we know feedback is important for our professional development and career advancement, we also know that it can be difficult to ask for it.
The first step to becoming more open to feedback, and using its power, is understanding the source of our resistance. Once we know where our resistance is coming from, we can begin addressing it, which I’ll do in Part 2 of this blog post.
But first let’s look at the source of our resistance more closely. Before my coaching clients and I discuss the value of constructive feedback, we begin by talking about reasons that they may resist seeking feedback in the first place.
I’ve learned that the source of resistance from my clients usually comes from some combination of experiences during childhood and when starting their careers.
#1 We’re afraid we’ll be wrongly accused
“Remember that sense of dread you felt when you were called to the principal’s office in the 5th grade?” one coaching client asked, when discussing this unpleasant memory. Because of it, and other experiences like it, she realized that seeking feedback from colleagues was invoking childhood memories of being judged or wrongly accused by authority figures.
#2 Showing weakness might derail our careers
From college, graduate school, and through the early stages of our careers, we may learn that getting ahead means being strong and looking after #1. This may be especially true among those who work in highly competitive industries and/or attended medical school, law school, or business school. If success is thought of as a zero sum game, we’ll likely resist opening ourselves to feedback.
One of my clients unknowingly held a defensive posture sitting at his desk, when we first started discussing the value of collecting feedback a year ago. Our initial conversation created a “fight or flight” response in him. The idea of “being perceived as weak” and “not having the answers,” as he described it, threatened his alpha male status.
In Part 2 of this blog, I’ll identify how to overcome your resistance and share tips on seeking feedback to maximize its value. In the meantime, remember that identifying the likely sources of your resistance to feedback is the first step.