The behavior people show and how they react to situations will always depend on the context. The way it is perceived and the situation experienced will determine how much of that behavior we’ll get.
That’s because people learned to regulate their emotions.
The reaction will still be different for everyone. But that’s because everyone perceives the context differently. For some, it will be less threatening than for others. And here it doesn’t matter how much of it is conscious or unconscious. People will regulate their emotions based on all the information that is available to them. That includes unconscious information.
That is why the same feedback conversation will create a different experience for everyone. It impacts for example how an individual will make himself vulnerable in that situation. That in turn impacts how much of your feedback will be received.
Brené Brown has an interesting way to describe vulnerability. She builds it into connection. For her connection is the means to establish meaningful and authentic relationships. She defines connection as a continuum that is anchored on one end in empathy and on the other end in shame. Empathy is what moves people toward deep, meaningful relationships. Whereas shame unravels relationships and connections with other people.
For her, this continuum is like the equalizer on a stereo. There is a little knob that you can shift from one end to the other and place it somewhere on the continuum. This knob is how vulnerability appears. The more it is pushed towards empathy, the more open vulnerability will be. It is a vulnerability that lets you share not only strengths but also struggles with the other. Empathy thus becomes “being vulnerable with people in their vulnerability”, the ability to be present with others. When the vulnerability knob is pushed to the other end of the continuum, it is the place where vulnerability is at its worst. The closer people come to shame the more they fear to share, to be open. They fear that showing that part of themselves will lead to disconnection.
When receiving feedback people will shift their vulnerability knob to a space on the continuum. They do so depending on the context in which this feedback takes place. That is the culture in that organization, the way it is presented, or the way the person can deal with positive and negative feedback.
The closer they shift it to shame, the more difficult it will be for them to stay connected with you and thus receive the feedback.
It pays to see where and when shame may come up. Doing so enables you to transform the context and thus deliver feedback even when it is painful.