Changing our Perspective on Feedback

by Sam Mednick

One of the most common things I hear when speaking to clients about whether or not to ask for feedback is that they’re afraid of the answers. These are people who want to improve and develop personally and professionally, yet they aren’t truly ready to deep dive into the unknown. And this is true for so many of us who see the term feedback as synonymous with bad news.

As Octavius Black, CEO of Mind Gym puts it:

When someone asks, ‘would you like some feedback?’, our brain switches to ‘defend mode’.

This is unfortunate as it’s been proven that feedback is one of the best ways we can improve, have increased employee engagement and become better and ultimately happier people. So what can we do to start changing the narrative in terms of how we see feedback? We can start by understanding its significance.

How can we change the narrative when it comes to feedback?

Why is feedback so important?

Feedback is one of the most useful ways for telling us ‘where we are’ and where we want to be. Without it we couldn’t change and we wouldn’t move forward. On his personal blog, renowned coach, author and speaker, Marshall Goldsmith, published the findings of a recent study about feedback involving more than 11,000 leaders and 86,000 of their co-workers from eight major companies. He says the findings were clear:

Leaders who ask, listen, learn and consistently follow up are seen as becoming more effective. Leaders who don’t ask don’t get much better.

So how can we ask for feedback in the most optimal way?

There are various ways to get feedback and Goldsmith says that no matter how you do it, the key thing to remember is that the feedback has to move you forward. As a result he’s created something called feedforward. The premise being that it’s less about looking at the past and more about looking into the future and how you can improve.

What are the different ways we can solicit feedback?

#1: Ask others directly: When doing so be sure to ask it in a way that will enable change. For example:

  • Ask the question: How Can I Do Better?
  • Solicit advice rather than criticism
  • Be directed towards the future rather than being obsessed with the negative past
  • Be phrased in a way that suggests you will act on it and that you’re trying to do better

#2: Hire a coach to do a 360 feedback assessment: Many companies have internal or external coaches on hand to provide 360-degree feedback for their employees. The idea is that all feedback is delivered to the person anonymously and is facilitated by the coach who asks people from various walks of this person’s life a series of questions, and then compiles the answers before presenting them.

#3: Pay attention in our everyday lives: If you don’t feel comfortable asking people for feedback by simply being a bit more aware you can gather quite a lot of information on your own. For example try some of the following tactics suggested by Goldsmith:

  • Make a list of people’s casual remarks about you: We’re constantly observing but not always with a purpose. For one day write down all the comments that you hear people make about you and at the end of the day rate them as positive or negative. If you have more negatives on the list that might serve as an indication for areas of improvement.
  • Turn off the sound: Watch how people physically manoeuvre and how they deal with you. Do they lean away or towards you? Do they listen when you speak or are they moving their fingers? Another thing you can do is to make sure you’re the first person to arrive at a group meeting and watch as people enter the room and see how they react to you. Do they smile and sit close to you or do they sit far away and barely acknowledge you? This helps tell you where you can start asking the questions for what needs to change.
  • Complete the sentence: Pick something you want to get better at. It could be losing weight or being a better listener. For example you can say: “If I listen better I will….” Say it over and over again and complete the sentence with a different answer. What happens is that you’ll start becoming more emotional and it’ll help you dig beneath the surface. You’ll eventually touch on an interpersonal skill that you want to improve.
  • Listen to your own self-aggrandizing remarks: Someone who says ‘I’m always on time’, is most likely usually late. People boast about their strengths more often than not when it’s actually a weakness.
  • Look homeward: You are who you are both at work and at home. Your flaws at work don’t vanish once you walk through the front door. So keep your eyes open as sometimes you’ll see the message at home and not at work, but the same issue is probably happening in both areas of your life.

Where to go next?

Gathering insights from colleagues and friends is only the first step of the process. The most important part about asking for feedback is what you do with it after. Whether you received a 360 report from your coach or made notes after being more aware, if you truly want to see change, pick one or two things that stood out from the results, make a commitment to work on them and then TELL PEOPLE what you are doing.

It’s been proven that if you tell others what you’re trying to change, they’ll notice a 90% shift. If you try to change in a vacuum, people will only see a 15% difference. Not only does communicating the change you want to make help speed up the process, it also allows others to hold you accountable.

When’s the last time you asked for feedback? Share your experience with us.

This is part one of a two-part series about feedback. The second blog will delve into our new Feedback Circle

Photo: rawpixel (Unsplash)


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