5 min read

I felt a lot of emotions this week (as I’m sure you have, too).

I oscillated between anger, frustration, fear, self-doubt, self-preservation, shame, embarrassment…

Those cycles were pretty rapid, too.

Anger towards the way our society values black lives.

Frustration when I feel like people are missing the point.

Fear and self-doubt when it comes to how to use my voice.

Retreating back towards self-preservation to avoid that fear and self-doubt.

Shame realizing that my retreat is a manifestation of my white privilege.

Embarrassment when I talk to my friends or partner about that shame.

…and the cycle starts again.

Over the last couple of years, two concepts have had a really big impact on how I relate to other people, and so I wanted to share them in the hopes that they may help you too.

In 2017, I read the book “Thanks for the feedback.”

The term “Feed-back” comes from the 1860s Industrial Revolution. It was the idea of taking the output of a system and feeding it back into the point of origin.

Fast forward to today, and feedback has been applied to human performance.

If you aren’t getting the output you want from a system (or person), we use the data for the outcome to figure out a better input.

Feedback is now a core part of managing employees. But in one study, 63% of executives identified their biggest challenge was their managers lack of courage and ability to have difficult feedback discussions.

In short, the Thanks for the Feedback argues that our feedback system is broken.

And not because we are unable to give feedback, but because individually we reject and fail to receive feedback.

The book goes on to identify three common triggers in response to feedback:

  1. Truth Triggers – when we believe the substance of the feedback is somehow off, unhelpful, or simply untrue
  2. Relationship Triggers – when our relationship to the provider of the feedback impacts how we receive the information
  3. Identity Triggers – when the feedback threatens our own sense of who we are

When we are triggered, we put up big walls and have a hard time hearing that feedback, understanding it’s intention, and using it productively.

The triggers aren’t inherently unreasonable, and not all feedback is accurate.

Actually, a lot of feedback is delivered in a way that doesn’t even make it’s own point very clear.

But it’s the conversation that follows receiving feedback that can help untangle truth and unlock understanding.

If we shut down and refuse to have that conversation, the feedback loop fails and the system does not improve.

OK, hold there – this is where I want to bring up the second concept: Generative Conflict.

A good friend of mine has been a community organizer for a long time. He’s been a force behind a lot of protests, demonstrations, and heated discussions.

He shared with me that he believes strongly in the power of generative conflict.

Personally, I’m pretty conflict averse. Another privilege that I have.

Even the word conflict tends to trigger a reaction of disengagement from me.

I’m conflict averse because most conflict I’ve experienced feels like a losing battle. It feels like it ends in a stalemate.

But conflict can be an incredibly useful tool.

Conflict takes opposing ideas and beliefs and forces them towards an outcome or compromise.

It’s great in a team environment, where the best ideas (and solutions) come from open discussion.

When people feel safe enough to share their opinions, we have more viewpoints to consider, and ultimately more (better) data to make decisions from.

An important point: the conflict centers on ideas and does not attack people.

That’s the point of generative conflict. But within that explanation is the challenge: it works well within teams.

Generative conflict works within teams because teams share an identity. They trust one another. They have some alignment on the goals they are pursuing.

If we want conflict to be generative, and lead to positive, useful outcomes, we need to be on the same team.

We need to align on goals, hold space for different perspectives, and we can find solutions that achieve those goals.

That’s where I’ve been struggling a lot this week. Our society isn’t acting as a team.

Our society claims to be want safety, freedom, and equality – but if that was truly the whole team’s goal, why can’t we engage in generative conflict to find useful solutions?

We don’t share an identity. We don’t share goals. We aren’t behaving as a team.

So change starts with each of us. We need to value the potential of being a united team. We need to take risks and make our voice heard so that we can realign.

We’ll get it wrong sometimes. I know I have this week, and many times before that.

And when we get it wrong, we will receive feedback. That feedback may even trip one of those three triggers.

Remember that feedback is a two-way street. We need to be persistent and vigilant in helping each other improve – but we also need to have some compassion in providing feedback so that it can be heard and understood.

Does anyone receive a gold star for trying to do the right thing? No. But are they more likely to continue to strive to be better if they get some positive reinforcement? Absolutely.

It’s on us to also be graceful in receiving feedback, too. When we don’t understand, instead of rejecting the feedback, use compassionate curiosity to seek understanding.

Then get back to helping the team.