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The Feedback You Need, but Don't Get (and Secretly Don't Want)

I’m going to stretch a bit here and assume you are like me - and that we all want to be better. We want to be better workers or managers, hit better targets in our business, be better spouses, friends or members of the community. No matter how good we think we are – there is always that little nugget in the back of our noggin pushing us to raise the bar just a little bit. And that’s good!

When we try to improve, however, we do so while operating in our own little bubbles, viewing challenges and changes from our own limiting viewpoint, and it affects the lanes we drive in on the improvement highway. We make moves based on what we think is best, without incorporating other perspectives. Without additional feedback, we may end up making decisions that are not supportive of, and in fact may be detrimental to, what we are looking to accomplish. And that’s not good!

External feedback is essential to success and accomplishment, regardless of scenario. However, it’s the one item that we struggle to get the most. Why is valid, legitimate, constructive feedback so hard to come by? It’s comes down to two buckets: we don’t ask for it, for fear of negative feedback; and many people don’t like to give it, for fear of splintering a relationship. Just as much as you dislike hearing about your inability to hold a room in a meeting, the person giving you that feedback hates to say it. We want to build relationships, not break them due to misinterpretations, hurt feelings and the like.

If nobody wants to give feedback and we are afraid of it, yet we need it, how are we to get it? Here are a few important things to know about getting the valid, productive feedback you need to improve:

Be open to it

Like, really be open to it. You actually have to want the feedback you get so you can improve. It’s a means to an end – and your desire to improve or succeed has to be greater than your attempts to protect your fractured ego. If you aren’t open to receiving feedback, others aren’t going to be open to providing it. We need to operate under a “learner” mindset; feedback is simply information from which we learn about ourselves. “Change Your Questions, Change Your Life” delves deeper into this “learner” mindset, and is a book I recommend to all of my clients.

Be vulnerable

We claim to want “constructive” feedback, however what we are really asking for is validation that we are awesome. How often have you asked for constructive feedback, received some that was negative, and then instantly went on the defensive to cover the sting? Open up your guard a little bit. Be prepared to take in feedback, digest it, and spit it out into something useful. There are excellent TED talks on vulnerability that really help put things into perspective.

You actually have to ask for it

People love to help other people. However sometimes that help needs to be solicited. Swallow your pride and actually ask some trusted individuals for their feedback. Here are two helpful reminders when asking for feedback: Time and Context. First, give that person time to think about how they want to give you feedback. It’s the result of a relationship over time, so give them warning. Tell them you are working on something over the coming weeks or months, and you would like their feedback at some point in the future. This way they aren’t caught off guard and can pull together the best feedback possible.

Second, remember that context matters and helps. Explaining that their feedback will help a larger goal (overall self-improvement, strategy change, etc.) makes it less personal and more focused on a task at hand, thus leading people to be more inclined to share their perceptions and feedback.

Be aware

Getting good feedback relies on good relationships. Be aware of the actual relationships you are building. But just as important as what is said is what isn’t. Feedback comes from different people at different stages of relationships. Read between the lines; not everyone is comfortable telling your cooking is terrible. Reflect on your conversations and your feedback, and see if there is something that people are bouncing around – and you can move on from there.

The assessment route

First person feedback is extremely beneficial, but there are also assessments that can give an additional aspect of feedback to help you be round out your improvement approach. By comparing assessment data (personality, leadership style, market data) with individually received feedback, you can potentially have a more holistic view on whatever it is you are changing.

Productive feedback can be a scary proposition, but the diversity of perspectives and views is the secret ingredient to successful change and improvement. It’s an invaluable and essential component on your path to success. Be genuine in your solicitation of it. Write it down. Create a plan. And use it to put yourself on the right path to positive, sustained personal and professional growth.