Do you love to hear what you’re doing wrong? Me, too! No, really, I do. Sure, it can be unpleasant in the moment, but I really do like to hear about ways people think I can improve. Even more, I like to reflect on that feedback and operationalize it so I can actually get better. Why? Partially because I get bored with the status quo (hello…consultant here!), but mainly because I’m a firm believer that “if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward”. So, if, like me, you want to get more out of feedback, this is for you.
We say we want feedback, but we resist
Too often our words and actions are inconsistent. We say we want input, but we really just want validation and praise, so we resist constructive criticism. Sometimes this is because it’s not fun, others because we don’t like the source (or we like the source too much that it’s hurtful), and still others because we are overconfident about how good we are. We can even resist because we don’t have good systems to incorporate and act on the feedback. Whatever your reason for resisting, you probably have a good one, so how do you overcome it?
Get feedback from a trusted source
One way to start is to get feedback from trusted sources. Over the years I have made a special effort to develop and regularly refine a small group of mentors from whom I seek feedback and advice. I know these people care about and support me, I trust their perspectives, and so I am willing to be vulnerable and hear their advice. If you don’t have a group of trusted advisors you can speak to regularly for advice and feedback, start thinking of a few. Let the relationships develop organically for the best results.
Seek anonymous feedback
If you are worried about the possible relationship damage of seeking trusted advisors’ feedback, consider anonymous sources. This could take the form of a short open-ended questionnaire sent to some close contacts with anonymous results. It could also be customer or client surveys, or even a general suggestion box. I love reading student evaluations at the end of each semester because no one gives you the brutal truth you really need to hear better than an anonymous college student! I even check Rate My Professor about once a year to get the real truth (still waiting on that chili pepper…)!
Reflect and act on feedback
Too often people suggest things to us, offer constructive advice, or have great ideas that make us think, “yes, that’s great,” followed by nothing further. If you’re going to go through the trouble to seek feedback, at least take a little time to reflect on what you’ve learned. If you like some or all of it, take a few minutes to define the outcomes you’d like to be true about the feedback and the action steps you need to take, or systems you need to set up, to help you operationalize those outcomes. Yes, this means adding something else to your to-do list…do you want to improve or have a short to-do list?!
Don’t get caught in feedback ping pong
When you seek advice or feedback, be prepared for it to start coming for anywhere and everywhere. One suggestion does not make a pattern. Evaluate the source, the value, the frequency with which you hear that piece of advice, and similar ideas before acting on everything you hear. You don’t need to act on every suggestion you receive…unless, of course, you do want a career as a ping pong ball.
Make it hurt more to fail
One final tip: we often ignore or don’t seek feedback because we don’t want to risk getting hurt. If your options are failing or have someone alert you to possible failure so you can take corrective action, which would you choose? Assuming it’s the latter, we can extrapolate the principle to seeking feedback: make it hurt more to fail than to find out about ways you could fail. This subconscious attitude change can make it much more stomach-able to seek and receive feedback…even the tough stuff.
The trick to viewing feedback as a gift is to be more worried about having blind spots than hearing about them.
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