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Psychologist discusses effective feedback

By 2nd Medical Operations Squadron - Staff Report 2nd Medical Operations Squadron

I am a psychologist by training.  One advantage of a career in helping people change is familiarity with strategies to implement change and how well they succeed or fail.

People engage in patterns of thought, behavior, and reaction in a way that, unfortunately, can also be counterproductive. In addition, frequently we don't have the self-awareness necessary to see that what we are doing or thinking is sabotaging our goals. This is where feedback loops can be beneficial.

Feedback from our environment, coworkers, subordinates, and superiors give us indications about whether we are moving in the right direction or not. The key is to know how to listen and adapt to feedback.

Our environment continuously provides us feedback. Our senses have a steady stream of input from our surroundings to the point that much of it is ignored because it's not significant. We don't notice the temperature unless it's above or below a certain point. Ambient noise in our environment doesn't rise to a level of conscious attention unless something unusual is presented that we need to attend to, like the bark of an aggressive dog or the sound of screeching tires.

In the same way, people are constantly acting and reacting to our behaviors, and our awareness of how we influence others is important, especially in terms of leadership.

Unfortunately, not all feedback is valuable, and there are times when doing the right thing may mean ignoring the noise around you and pressing on toward the goal. Therefore, discerning valuable feedback is key.

We've all been in situations where everyone else can see what's going on, but the person in question doesn't see it, even if there is overwhelming evidence.

Some leaders lack the ability to adapt to feedback, and may see themselves as being admirable, when in reality, that leader's behaviors and motivations make others cringe because of how their actions and intentions are perceived. Ultimately, this person's leadership negatively impacts the team's cohesiveness and performance.

Attending to the feedback around us and incorporating it into our plan of action is invaluable. The temptation is to disregard information we don't like or doesn't fit with our estimate of a situation. This is known as confirmation bias: the tendency to look for evidence that confirms the beliefs we already possess and discount evidence that contradicts it.

An individual who is really looking to improve his or her leadership will take a hard look at conflicting inputs from their environment and ask themselves if their current perception of how things are is accurate. This is the same as 'adjusting fire', and course correction is what ensures a mission is not derailed by unforeseen events.

The ability to correct course is also a critical facet of leadership. As we look at the goals we have set for ourselves and our units, we should be continuously asking ourselves how the feedback we receive enables us to more accurately reach our personal, professional, and organizational goals.