The Art of Feedback

Uncategorized Jul 01, 2021
 

Searching for good feedback is a key part of success. Every athlete depends on a coach’s advice and CEOs always need the input of a board of directors before making a big decision. Feedback systems are everywhere, so why are they rarely discussed?

Top performers know that setting up a personal feedback system will help to hone their decisions, habits, routines and processes. Improving each of these factors will have an enormous impact on their success. Of course, “going it alone” is highly prized in our modern culture. But feedback can exist in harmony with individuality. However, getting the right feedback from the right people at the right time is an art.

The reason people are shy about the topic of feedback is that humans don’t really like change. Rather than grow, we prefer the comfort of our status-quo. We sense that every piece of feedback – solicited or unsolicited – will only mean more tough work at best and giving up something we love at worst. Psychologists offer plenty of answers for why people reject advice or refuse to ask for feedback. But it boils down to a simple fact: people don’t want feedback, they want their victimhood to be validated.

 Cutting corners

 We must spin this narrative on its head and think about how feedback can flatten the learning curve, boost your efficiency, plug significant knowledge gaps and propel you towards amazing success. Life is constant change, and your process or mindset can always improve – if you listen to feedback and advice.

For instance, I spend much of my time researching and studying marketing and it is easy to assume I am on the right path. But I also know that two minutes of great feedback can cut through all the noise and give me a new perspective that can’t be found in the books and videos. In my experience, a good injection of critical feedback has the power to bend or even eliminate the learning curve entirely.

 

Serving others

No matter which way you slice it, success always involves serving other people. Building win-win relationships requires listening carefully to what others say they need. The only way to do that is by asking for feedback or reading their body language and adapting your approach. It is easy to assume we know what other people want but it’s much easier to simply ask them.

If you are part of a team, try asking the coach or leader if what you’re doing can be improved. If you are in a personal relationship, enquire about the needs of your partner. If you own a business, you might be nervous about asking what your customers want, but it can make a big difference to your success. My buddy, Chris Stevenson, often says one of the best tools for any marketer is the humble customer survey.

 

Consider the source

 Keep in mind that while everyone is entitled to their opinion, not all opinions are equal. When we get feedback, the source is often those facing similar challenges to us – for instance, financial advice from friends or parenting advice from other people with children.

The difference between expert and novice advice can be life-changing. While it is a nice gesture to ask your friends for advice, search out feedback from those who have been there and done that. Instead of getting dieting feedback from your brother, spend a couple of hours with a nutritionist. And rather than complaining about your relationship struggles to a colleague over lunch, try book a session with a therapist instead.

 

Work on the nuance

Feedback without a touch of finesse can be uncomfortable for everyone. I would love to help some of my friends, but I know they will bite my head off, so I don’t waste my time. Despite my “constructive” intentions, my “criticism” will always initially be seen as an attack. After all, nobody enjoys being criticized, poked or prodded.

This uncomfortableness tends to paint feedback in negative light, which partially explains why people don’t like talking about it. Another reason is that the first time we got any feedback was at school or from our parents. At the time, it felt like nit-picking, but this attitude creates an unhealthy us-vs-them mindset. It splits the world into employees vs employers or corporations against everyone else. If you don’t learn to reframe feedback, this us-vs-them mindset may carry over into your adult life and scuttle your goals.

 

Process and Outcome

 Success does not happen in a vacuum. It may be romantic to think of chefs inventing dishes from scratch, writers stumbling on a brilliant phrase one evening or comics jotting down jokes alone in their basement. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the real world, feedback is everywhere. A cook will ask their restaurant colleagues if this exciting new dish has the right amount of salt or if something is missing. A writer will ask an editor to highlight plot holes or suggest elaborating on a thought. Meanwhile, comedians will present their fresh material at small comedy clubs to see what makes people laugh before piecing the jokes together into a longer skit.

 Our mental bandwidth is finite which is why we must leverage the knowledge of others. Even world-class athletes would find it impossible to focus all at once on cardio, strength training, nutrition, sleep habits, distractions and just living their lives outside of the sport. They succeed by creating a system of feedback by hiring nutritionists, strength coaches and sports psychologists. The same applies to anyone hoping to improve their job, increase their fitness, become financially savvy, embrace parenting or wear any other hat.

 People struggle to ask for feedback because they don’t approach it with the attitude that it might change their life. It will, if you let it. If you remember that feedback is meant to improve, not validate, your mindset you will wonder why you waited so long to find someone to bounce ideas off.

 

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