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People hear what they want to hear

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

People hear what they want to hear

Scott Miker

We all have gotten feedback on something we do or something we did that we didn’t like.  It might be during a performance review at work, something a friend tells us or receiving a bad grade in school.  While the information comes as something negative, we usually don’t realize that we can actually take this and use it to improve. 

We don’t take constructive criticism very well.  We get a jolt of emotion (fight or flight reaction) that often comes and it starts to cloud our thinking.

Because this doesn’t feel good and causes an emotional response, we naturally move to habitual responses such as deflection or denial.  We find reasons that it isn’t our fault (usually just excuses).  At the end we are left with justifications that leave our bruised ego intact. 

Because this is such a common response to feedback that addresses areas that are weak and could improve, we end up going through life static and expecting everything around us to change, rather than us change our behavior. 

But the way to improvement is by changing that exact behavior in a positive way.  We have to be able to change when necessary and use the feedback around us to move us forward.

We have to learn to appreciate the constructive criticism to help clue us in to an area that we may be blind to but that may be holding us back from success. 

The problem is the emotional response and the subsequent behavior that follows.  That is so ingrained that it is extremely difficult to avoid or to change. 

Over the years I have found incredible value in being able to control that emotional response and then control the follow up behavior.  It has allowed me to succeed in areas where I previously failed.  One example is with public speaking.

For most people public speaking is painful.  We start to feel sick to our stomach, we sweat, our voice cracks, and we feel shaky.  We can’t clearly explain our thoughts and usually babble out something filled with “ahs” and “uhms”. 

But this isn’t effective.  This limits our ability to communicate to a large, intimidating group.  Somehow we have to be able to control this emotional response and push past it.

Years ago I was heavily involved in a group called Toastmasters.  Toastmasters focuses on helping members overcome their fear of public speaking and helps to become more polished in our communication.  It has a very specific process where members attend weekly meetings and speak in various roles.  Then the group uses constructive feedback to alert the member to ways that they can improve. 

Going through Toastmasters actually helped me far beyond being able to communicate more effectively.  It actually helped me address this emotional response and then respond in a much more confidant manner.  But it also helped me learn to take constructive criticism and use it to improve.

The key for me was in that moment where emotions start to rise.  We have to find a way to stop the systematic increase in the fear emotion.  Through breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, positive self-talk and other methods, I was able to slowly, over time, change how I initially felt after hearing this painful information. 

People hear what they want to hear.  But, we can, as individuals, start to change that narrative in a way that can drastically help us improve.  We have to be able to take information and reduce the emotional impact that often comes in the form of responsive behavior.  But there are techniques that we can learn to be able to reduce our fight or flight response enough to simply say, “how can use this information to help me improve.”