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Coaching or Criticism? How to Make Feedback Work For Us!

Mindset Made Simple Tip #166 – Watch or listen HERE.

“You don’t have to yell at me,” I’ve been told. My response. “This is not yelling!”

If you are a leader, you’ve experienced this. You are instructing, correcting or giving feedback on a skill or experience and the receiver of your message thinks you are all over them.

Your intentions are to make things better, but sometimes they make things worse.

I distinctly recall telling my third basemen to get the batter in a bunt situation after two failed attempts at getting the lead runner (I do not recall my exact tone, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t a caring tone, unfortunately).

I got the message across. But it led to an error on the next easy ball hit that way.

Why? Because my player couldn’t manage my feedback along with her own frustration.

I didn’t help!

I learned of another feedback fiasco yesterday as I was talking with the parent of one of my young athletes. This kid is good. He is so good he is at the front of the pack and was on pace to set a PR! At the last curve, his coach yelled out his time. About 10 yards later, he threw up and had to stop for a few seconds to regroup and missed his PR by only a few seconds.

This feedback was delivered very differently than mine but had a similar effect. It unintentionally disrupted the athlete’s mindset.

So, what do we do? It’s inherent in what we do to instruct, correct, give information and point out what is going well and what is not. That is a coach! But so often, our comments whether in the heat of the game or in practice situations are taken as personal attacks and more.

This is a huge issue for all of us. We bring people into our programs in athletics and in business to make us better. Somewhere along the line our attempts at helping them grow turn into criticism and emotional discomfort.

Granted, there are times when we are attacked. And there are times we have been the attackers. But most conversations I witness or have been involved in as a player, coach and consultant are intended to promote behavioral changes that will make the player and performance better.

How can we help those we lead accept feedback to enhance their performance?

Melody Hobson, president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments and chairwoman of Starbucks Corporation said recently on a podcast with Adam Gant, that her mentor once told her that “feedback was not a right. You're not entitled to it. So whenever you get it, it's a gift and you had to treat it that way.”

At the base of accepting feedback is POWER MOVE #1. Our ability to choose one thought over another.

What we are told is to help us in the moment, in the long run, in our lives…usually! At some point, we need to ask ourselves and those we lead if the words spoken to us directly affect our ability to throw, speak, run, swim, etc. We know the answer to this is a hard NO, but because of our emotional reactions, it sometimes feels like we cannot perform.

But...we can choose one thought over another...and act!

Simply identifying the fact that the words that enter our ears and get sent to our brain DO NOT directly affect or change our ability to perform and we can choose to keep moving forward, is the first step moving through difficult feedback.

We can still attend to the next play no matter who said what or what happened around us. Our physical skills are not altered by anything we hear.

I get it. It isn’t always that easy.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we had some sort of filter we could be outside of our ear and adjust the words sent our way by taking all of OUR emotion out of the message? What would this look like?

I have a picture of it in my head. If I had time, I would diagram it right here. it is WORDS –> then this box that is like a strainer you use to separate water from fine substances for cooking (I’m not a cook and I assume that has a name, but you get the picture) –> then our ears, then into the right hemisphere of our brain and into the Wernicke area of our brain where comprehension begins.

Note: there is no mention of how that comprehension attaches to emotion.

Since there is no such thing, yet we are well equipped to face feedback and even though innately we are wired to search for threats, if we work at it, we can circumvent our nature! My imaginary filter can be substituted by a few things.

The first thing, as holocaust survivor and author Viktor Frankl suggests, we can pause, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Sounds like POWER MOVE #2! We can always change how we respond.

To do that, we need to use this filter to take the message despite the messenger, the delivery or our first reaction. We then need to think about what is most important in the message. “What can I do with this to make me or this situation better?”

Questions we may ask may be, “Do I need to pause?” “Do I need to ask a question?” “Do I need to stop, adjust, or respond?”

Another question we may ask is “What did I do that imitated this feedback?” The next question may be “What do I need to do to avoid it in the future? How should I adjust? Have I heard this before and what do they see?"

If we immediately ask a question to the messenger or ourselves, we move what was received from the problems side of the board to the solutions side of the board. Questions immediately get us searching for solutions…and this process helps us move forward with productive thoughts. It all comes back to “What’s Important Now?”

Lastly, this may be a great time for last week’s tool – DELIBERATE REHEARSAL! If we throw the message into this system and simply repeat the words we received in our own voice and tone, then watch ourselves make the adjustments suggested and keep ourselves in the game to then do it, we are controlling the situation by figuring out what the words look like in action and helping prime our brain and body to do what we need to do the next time.

None of these are fool-proof for keeping ourselves from reacting emotionally, but they can help us when there is no time for internal debate.

We want to be our best. To do that, we need someone to tell us what they see. To learn what they see, they have to be able to tell us what they see….and we don’t get to decide how that process takes place.

What we do get to decide is how we use that information to get better…or to make decisions.

Not all feedback is helpful. Not all feedback is warranted. Not all feedback is meant for improvement.

But most of it is meant to help. And to get better, we must be better at managing it and helping those we lead to the same.

So the next time you start to react to what is said, remember, this doesn’t change your ability to act and you have the power to pause and choose your response. You can also take what you need and put it into practice right away, even if the next time you physically perform it is minutes or days down the road. Rehearsing it can take the sting away and ensure you get the good stuff to be better!

Feedback isn’t always fun but if we are smart, we will dig into it to find any grain of truth in the message,…and use it to our advantage!

Here is to managing feedback and moments!


P.S. Hire me to work with your team for one day or all year. Let’s put together a mental training plan that works for your team. Shoot me an email at

Julie Jones

Mental Performance Coach

SSB Performance • 234-206-0946

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