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Listen to the “Good” Feedback at Work

Listen to the “Good” Feedback at Work
    Feedback Experiment from Sune P on flickr

    You received glowingly positive comments about your presentation from several colleagues, but when one person said something critical, you obsessed about that comment for days and ignored all of the positive feedback.

    Does this sound familiar?

     Beware of Cognitive Distortions

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    In the mid-twentieth century, renowned psychologists Albert Ellis and David Burns popularized the notion of cognitive distortions, or exaggerated thoughts and irrational beliefs that make us feel badly.

    One such distortion is the mental filter, in which you pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it, so that your vision of all of reality becomes darkened.

    Another related distortion is known as discounting the positive. You reject positive experiences by insisting they don’t count. If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn’t good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positive makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.

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    Both distortions are at work in the person who lets positive feedback go in one ear and promptly out the other.

    In the case of cognitive distortions, you are your own worst enemy. Things might be going better than you think, but because you have set yourself up to focus on the negative, your work situation seems hopeless and doomed.

    Here are some recommendations for prompting your mind to listen to, actually hear, and properly process positive feedback from colleagues:

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    Tune into Your Awareness

    Over the next week or two, pay attention to the situations and comments that automatically instigate an emotion. Jot down your thoughts about these events. At the end of the monitoring period, look at the tone of what you’ve written. Have you recorded mostly negative thoughts and feelings, as in: “I was annoyed when John didn’t use my statistics in the meeting”?

    Note if anything positive happened in addition to the negative, as in: “Though my statistics weren’t used, the meeting participants were asking me questions about the project instead of John, so obviously they knew I was the expert.”

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    Record the Positive

    Every time you receive a piece of positive feedback, either in person, through e-mail, or secondhand, write it down. For the next two weeks, keep a running list of every detail that reflects well on your performance. Your list might look something like this:

    • “Sara had no changes to my communications memo.”
    • “Ken sent an e-mail thanking me for putting together a great client meeting.”
    • “Eric told me the team would be lost if it wasn’t for me keeping an eye on the details.”
    • “Bethany overheard the executive director saying that I was in the running to accompany him to the conference.”

    Accept Compliments

    We tend to brush off compliments in a variety of ways. We might deflect praise to others when we really deserve it ourselves. We also might chalk up the good outcome to luck, or tell the person giving the compliment that we were “just doing our job” or that “it was nothing.” In addition to being unfair to ourselves, this reaction makes the other person feel silly because we are refuting their honest opinion.

    Instead of allowing compliments to fly immediately into the wind, own them. Accept that you did something worthy of praise and should be recognized for it. Politely and assertively say “thank you” and resist the urge to be embarrassed or utter something that totally negates the thanks.  Then, add the compliment to your positive feedback journal, which you should keep in a handy place for quick reference on those dark days when negativity threatens to envelop you.

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    Last Updated on August 6, 2020

    6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

    6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

    We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

    “Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

    Are we speaking the same language?

    My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

    When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

    Am I being lazy?

    When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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    Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

    Early in the relationship:

    “Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

    When the relationship is established:

    “Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

    It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

    Have I actually got anything to say?

    When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

    A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

    When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

    Am I painting an accurate picture?

    One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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    How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

    Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

    What words am I using?

    It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

    Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

    Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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    Is the map really the territory?

    Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

    A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

    I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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