Responding to Feedback
Feedback is an important for me as a person with AS and throughout my career it has been an important source of personal development. However, there are positives and negatives
To start with the positive. If delivered in the appropriate fashion, feedback can be an invaluable source of personal advice. Because of my lesser ability to infer I like – and need – as my ex-boss at the BBC once said: clear, explicit instruction and feedback couched in positive terms in something that I find can be really helpful.
Receiving positive feedback means that I fully understand exactly what is required of me. It clarifies things and ensures that I don’t misinterpret anything. From an internal, personal perspective it provides the reassurance of knowing what others expect me to do which is important for me as a manager.
Achieving this lessens or removes the propensity to feel anxious. If I am unsure about a task, it tends to be somewhat anxiety provoking. I feel uncertain and less than re-assured if I feel I am doing something that may not be precisely what is required. If this is so, I will work less productively, effectively and…. contentedly.
Knowing that I am doing what is required is also tremendously motivational. I like to be liked of course, and approval means that I feel “accepted”. This in itself provides a further spur.
In the position which was the most rewarding and enjoyable of my career, I worked initially for a boss who was not only incredibly knowledgeable and capable, but who was always positive, constructive and quick to give honest and complimentary feedback.
Whilst the job I was doing was enjoyable and, therefore, motivating to a degree in itself, being constantly acknowledged and praised via positive feedback meant it was the source of enormous personal motivation. From the perspective of having AS, it reduced uncertainty – and with it anxiety – and enabled me to feel confident within myself and so work productively.
When I was not doing what was required however, feedback from the boss in question was always forthcoming and couched in a constructive, non-critical form. It was explained to me in a (literal) way that outlined specifically what I needed to do; there were no negative connotations and at no stage did I feel that I was being personally questioned or undermined.
Feedback however, does not just apply to direct, personal information. What is also incredibly useful I have found as someone with AS, is feedback about peripheral, related issues.
A key example that springs to mind is corporate politics. Like many people with AS, I dislike office politics and find gauging how developments are taking shape in this arena difficult. Asking those who are better disposed to make judgements in this area can be highly beneficial.
However, like many other, similar topics – inter-personal relationships for example – required feedback is often not forthcoming unless actively sought. Which brings me my closing point under the positive heading: you will normally not receive feedback unless you asked for it.
Most managers (especially if you do not disclose your condition) will not be aware of your personal, AS-related requirements. Informing your superior or co-workers as to what you need is a vital pre-requisite: one has I believe to take personal responsibility for this.
Doing so I have found, mitigates another barrier: a feeling of discomfort or even pressure if someone gives negative or critical feedback. For as person with Asperger syndrome, this can be highly disconcerting and unsettling. By actively seeking feedback, I am doing so on my terms; this reduces the likelihood that it creates anxiety internally.
Which leads me nicely into the negatives!
Four weeks ago at work I received some feedback about a course I had run. It was delivered by two exceptionally nice people, intelligent and knowledgeable about the area in question. In no way were they negative and they pointed out some changes and additions which they thought would be beneficial.
However, I felt nervous, apprehensive and, to a certain degree, anxious. I have no idea why I should have!
I could tell before we went into the room to talk that I was going to receive information which was in a way negative, and this made me apprehensive before the conversation even began.
Physiologically as a person with AS, I feel this way whenever I am about to receive a negative comment or am being confronted in some fashion. The shutters go up personally and I feel unable to relax or receive the feedback in a positive manner. At best I feel defensive; at worse almost confrontational towards the opposing party.
I am sure that this demeanour transfers negatively on to other person or third-parties. My body language is negative and defensive and I lack the ability to be seen as receiving the feedback positively and as a chance to learn – which, if it is done the right way – is something I like and welcome.
This was certainly how it was done in the above mentioned case. My colleagues approached the situation in the right manner and provided suggestions about how the situation could be improved. I subsequently took these suggestions on board and they have proved extremely useful and beneficial.
So how can this negative feeling as a result of having Asperger syndrome be overcome?
The first thing I do is to try and put a block on any negative mental thoughts that start to permeate my thinking. As I have got older I have tried to adopt a mindset that involves simply “caring less”. By this, I don’t mean that I don’t care or am indifferent to negative feedback to refuse to accept it. Instead, I try to worry less about myself.
It’s normal to at times be given feedback, but what is the worse that can happen? Unless I have done something significantly wrong, it can’t lead to disciplinary action or dismissal and no-one can do anything extreme like hit me! So, what is there to worry about?
As a recent article on my website states: “what you think about you bring about!” If you do start to demonstrate a negative response, I have found that it becomes self-perpetuating. Consequently, I stop and refuse to allow these negative thoughts to enter my head.
What is important therefore is that I take it less personally, take the lessons (feedback) on board and then implement them. What is really important I have found, is to not dwell or allow the feedback to fester in negatives terms internally: it’s been said, adapt and move on. Its people trying to help after all, so what is the problem?
Central to all such things is the need to personally react in the correct fashion. Now, I don’t confront people negatively or aggressively, I view them as assistors. If appropriate say: “I appreciate the feedback and thank you for providing it”.
What I have also found helps is putting myself in the other person’s shoes. What is their perception? If I acknowledge and accept the feedback in the correct manner, then it is unlikely to go any further as an issue for them. If I adopt a negative stance, then they are more likely to subsequently be negatively pre-disposed towards me
If I can adopt a positive mindset, and demonstrate it via my actions towards the other party, then the process moves relationships and issues on and does not allow them to fester.
Adopting this stance as a manager with Asperger syndrome is, I have found, extremely beneficial.