To receive feedback like a pro, don’t just emphasise behaviour, prioritise understanding.

At the start of this year, we welcomed a new family member. We have the privilege of fostering a little black lab pup named Panther for the next year before we release him to go fight crime as a detector dog for the Australian Border Force.

It’s crucial for Panther’s training that he learns that it is unacceptable to jump up on people. As it turns out, training him to do that wasn’t too complicated. We had to apply a simple rule:

Only praise when four feet are on the ground.

When he is jumping up, we ignore him. We turn our back and don’t give him the attention he is craving. As soon as he stops, we praise him. It didn’t take very long to see a shift in that behaviour.

Dogs learn through operant conditioning, which means they do more of the rewarded behaviours and less of what is punished.

The problem with dogs is that, even though their behaviours shift, they don’t understand why it had to. So when the context shifts, they need to learn again. It’s behavioural adaptation without any real transformation.

The difference between you and a dog (among other things) is that you have the ability to change your mind, not just your actions.

You get the opportunity to grow from feedback not just mindlessly adopt it.

When you’re facing feedback it’s easy to get bogged down in what happened. That puts the focus on behaviours.

Remember that you can ask why questions to help clarify meaning. That puts the focus on growth and understanding.

When the understanding is clear, the behaviour will follow.

A question to reflect on:
Why is this person sharing this feedback with me and why is it important right now?