5 Steps To Feedback That Really Helps You Get Better

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(Forbes article) There’s no doubt about it: feedback is the breakfast of champions.

Top performers are top performers because they consistently search for ways to make their best even better. For top performers, “continuous improvement” is not just a glib slogan. It’s a mantra with real meaning.

Top performers know that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. For them, the “main thing” is excellent performance.

Top performers are not only good at accepting feedback, they deliberately seek feedback. And they know that feedback is helpful only when it highlights vulnerabilities as well as strengths.

In many professional circles, “peer review” is used to help maintain high standards of performance. Physicians use a form of peer review to certify doctors in special disciplines. Lawyers use a form of peer review, as do academics and others. Many industries, such as nuclear power, have exceptionally rigorous protocols in their peer reviews.

The best leaders I’ve observed are very good about providing unvarnished feedback on the performance of others. Their feedback is specific and relevant.

At the same time—and this is a key differentiator—the best leaders I know frequently solicit feedback on their own performance. They are open to critiques of both their ideas and of their leadership. On occasion, they actively seek “negative” feedback, valuing the voice of counter thinking. (By contrast, less effective leaders—if they solicit feedback at all—most often solicit confirming feedback.)

The most effective leaders I know are careful to break through the information quarantine that sometimes surrounds them. They actively seek negative feedback as well as positive. They understand that in order to perform better they need a full range of information—even when the information doesn’t feel good to hear.

Sometimes familiarity—in a situation or relationship—can lull us into assuming we understand something that we really don’t. Here’s an example.

One summer my wife and I were on a drive. It was a hot day and I stopped at a convenience store. I returned to the car with two bottles of cold water and two Snickers candy bars. My wife thanked me for the water and said it was thoughtful of me to be concerned for her thirst.

“And did you notice that I bought your favorite candy bar?” I asked. To which she replied: “Honey, Snickers is your favorite candy bar. I’m not fond of peanuts so I’ve never cared for Snickers. My favorite candy bar is Milky Way.”

So here I was—married to a wonderful woman for four plus decades—and I somehow never noticed that her favorite candy bar was not the same as my favorite.

Think how easy it must be to miss the cues and clues from the people we serve. Are we providing what they really need? Are we really reaching them? Are we really lifting them?

5 Steps To Meaningful Feedback

Here are some simple steps to receiving feedback that can really make a difference for you.

1. Ask. This may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many well-intended people never think to solicit feedback. Make it explicitly clear to your people that you’re genuinely interested in their perspectives on how and what you’re doing. If you’re not accustomed to asking, they’re probably not very accustomed to telling. So you need to ask.

2. Listen. Carefully listen—not just with your ears, but with your eyes and with all your body language. Your entire demeanor should say “I care about what you’re saying. Most importantly, I care about you.” Listen to learn and to understand, not to rebut.

3. Ask some more. If someone says you “did a good job” on your presentation, ask for more detail. Was it the story you used to illustrate a key point? Was it the way you handled the questions? Was it that killer PowerPoint you used? Exactly what was it that made for “a good job” on the presentation? And whether the feedback is “positive” or “negative,” ask what you can do better next time. Some of the most effective leaders I know go out of their way to solicit feedback from people who are several rungs lower on the organizational ladder.

4. Resist the urge to judge. What if someone said you come across as inaccessible? If you argue against that viewpoint, you’re merely providing evidence of its validity. Remember, when you ask for someone’s opinion, respect their right to hold that opinion. If someone says you seem aloof, you have a couple of options. You can either act as though you don’t care (thereby proving the point) or you can acknowledge that coming across as aloof would certainly harm your effectiveness and ask them for more specifics so you can adjust your behavior. Which of these options do you think might be more helpful?

5. Say thanks. Wouldn’t you say thanks if someone presented you with a birthday or holiday gift? Honest, heartfelt feedback is a gift. Acknowledge it as such. In fact, you might even consider saying something like “Your candid feedback is really a gift and I appreciate it. Thanks for your thoughtfulness.”

Sometimes our best coaches are the very people we’ve been asked to serve.

It’s not called “servant leadership” for nothing. .. (read more here on Forbes)

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