Getting feedback will make your designs stronger, and it can be revealing in more ways than you might expect. Listen for the emotional reactions, the ones that comes from that deep-seated “reptile” part of our brain, for cues that there is more to be understood.
Last week I inadvertently triggered a few reptile brain reactions. I’d jumped on an opportunity to present an idea (one that I hadn’t fully vetted beforehand) to a larger group for discussion’s sake. One aspect ran contrary to what I later learned had been a carefully negotiated decision with some sensitivity around it. When I touched upon it, the designers involved in it were taken by surprise, and the strength of their reaction surprised me in turn. Immediately I knew two things: I’d done something wrong, and that there was something else going on. As I worked to set the record straight afterward, it got me thinking about how to peel away instinct and reaction from the feedback itself.
Acknowledge it in the moment
As it’s happening, that reptile brain instinct is probably either telling you to fight or flee. While they’re both decisive actions, they’re not very productive in this kind of setting. Fighting feedback can signal that either you don’t believe it or are not open to hearing any more. Fleeing it shows a lack of confidence in your role, a role where you need to constantly adapt to new information.
Here are the actions you should take: acknowledge that you heard it, write it down, and decide how the rest of the time is best spent. Cut your losses and move onto other topics if it’s not the right time to get into details. Just be sure to capture the exact concern so you can work through it later. When you disagree, that’s exactly the time you need to listen harder.
Another way to approach it in the moment is to use one of the basic tenets of meditation: observe without judging. Don’t try to force responses: simply observe and acknowledge them as they happen. Letting the feedback play its course may be what’s needed.
Do something else
You may be able to follow up immediately, but that’s not always an option. In fact, if you’re particularly riled up it’s probably best if you don’t. Take a break to get your mind off of it and revisit it when you can think through it with a bit more perspective.
When I need to reset my brain, I usually take a walk. The physical activity and change of scenery is always helpful. If I’m pressed for time, a quick jog up and down stairs helps. Sometimes I’ll find someone in a different role to talk with about something entirely different to switch my focus.
Address each concern as appropriate
Once you separate the reaction from the feedback, you can get to the heart of the matter. Make a list of the people you need to talk with: the most concerned parties, your collaborators, and anyone else who has a stake in understanding the matter. Figure out what kind of outreach works best for each, and be timely about it.
Don’t overanalyze the reaction itself, or how the feedback was delivered, if you can help it. There are plenty of reasons why people may react the way they do, from personality to personal matters to office politics. You’re all on the same team (so to speak) so give them the benefit of the doubt. Better yet, ask them how they want to work with you. They may have simple suggestions that could markedly improve your collaborations.
If you’ve addressed each concern and it’s still bothering you, there’s may be something about the circumstances that affected you. Your defensive triggers may be particular words, tones of voice, or even particular people or venues. Being aware of them will make it easier to spot them in the future and separate them from the merit of the feedback itself.
Dealing with these little flare-ups of the reptile brain, whether yours or someone else’s, is not especially pleasant but it can be insightful. Honest feedback is not always easy to come by so take that opportunity when it comes, whatever form it may take.