Recently I noticed a recurring theme in many of my conversations with female clients, colleagues and peers: the dread of receiving or dealing with the aftermath of feedback. Whether at work in the shape of appraisals and reports, or at church after preaching or leading a project; there is an increasing tendency for feedback, but it would seem not everybody appreciates the trend.
I also noticed that exactly the same topic results in a very different response among my male clients, colleagues and peers. On the whole they seem to enjoy giving feedback and receiving it in equal measure – I would almost go so far as to say there is an appetite and enthusiasm for it. I remember one pastor telling me of his experience of working in a secular sector: he was given very critical feedback, and decided to turn it around. What would have crushed most people, actually motivated him to prove them wrong, and in the end the company didn’t want him to leave.
At this point I need to apologise for any gender specific generalisation and make it clear that these are personal observations, and of course there are always exceptions. Nevetheless, I believe that there are important lessons we can learn from each other, and from making statements in this way.
Men: Basically believe that what they are doing is already good, so feedback is about what they could do better.
Women: Start with a question about themselves. Am I good enough? Do they like me / appreciate me / value me at all?
What Feedback relates to:
Men: What I am doing. It’s about techniques and methods.
Women: Who I am, whether I am acceptable in this role, as a person, as a leader. It’s about my identity and sense of belonging.
Men: Feedback helps me to do even better, and release my potential.
Women: Feedback, unless completely positive, becomes crushing and demotivating.
Processing Feedback which is 80% positive, 20% negative:
Men: Focus more on the 80%
Women: Focus more on the 20%
Correlation between effort and outcome:
Men: Although they may be highly motivated and competitive, men rarely put in 100% of effort, and so expect to build and improve on result and feedback.
Women: Often put in 100% in effort in order to prove themselves, and therefore hope for a perfect result and feedback.
However, men and women react very similarly when it comes to who gives the feedback: the higher their esteem for the person, or their level of authority, the greater the impact.
So, the next time somebody offers you constructive, respectful feedback, remember:
- Feedback is not about who you are but about what you do
- Feedback is not about rejection but about growth
- Feedback is not about your entire life but just one specific activity
- Feedback is not about blind encouragement but about truth and awareness
- Feedback is not about reaching perfection but about making progress.
- Feedback is not against you but for you.