John and Frank were both bright and hard charging young managers when they started their careers. Over time, however, John continued to climb the success ladder, while Frank seemed to be stuck in professional quicksand. They both worked equally hard, so what made the difference?
The difference was feedback. John sought it regularly from coworkers and clients whose opinions he valued; Frank avoided it like the plague because he was afraid that some of the news might be less than flattering. Without feedback Frank wasn’t sure whether he was succeeding or not, therefore he didn’t know what adjustments to make in his approach to achieve higher levels of success.
Research has shown that leaders who regularly solicit and use feedback to their advantage continue to become ever more successful, and that those who don’t become ever less successful. That is, the feedback rich really do get richer and the feedback poor really do get poorer.
So why doesn’t everybody use this powerful tool to their advantage? Many people fear that they must be “perfect” (whatever that is) to be worthwhile as a human being. Therefore, any criticism of their behavior is a criticism of them as a whole person, so they avoid feedback altogether to avoid any potential pain of what they see as a total “rejection.”
Trying to convince yourself or others that you are perfect is a heavy and needless burden to carry in life. This phenomenon is highly prevalent in the business world, where the norm is to negotiate from a position of “strength,” and it’s especially prevalent among ambitious high achievers who are tempted to overdo most everything in the service of achieving more power, influence, and wealth.
Soliciting feedback from those whose opinions you value can help you to avoid this syndrome and to gauge whether you are spending your time and energy wisely to achieve your true personal definition of success. No one has perfect vision; we all have blind spots and need help in overcoming them.
One caveat, however, is to remember that all feedback is not created equal. Therefore, you need to evaluate feedback carefully to determine: a) if it has any real value for you, or b) if it is designed to meet a need of the giver which is at odds with your best interests.
In particular, remember that unsolicited feedback is always first and foremost to meet a need of the person giving it. For example, unsolicited positive feedback can actually be the flattery that precedes a request from the flatterer (“Gee, Mrs. Cleaver, you certainly do look lovely today! May I borrow your car and drive it to Key West with a bunch of the guys?”). Unsolicited negative feedback can be the giver’s attempt to offload personal frustration and feelings of inadequacy (“You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny.”).
- Technique #1: Make sure that your self esteem is strong enough to take full advantage of feedback from others. Be shrewd enough to get help from a qualified professional if you need it.
Technique #2: Solicit candid feedback regularly from those whose opinions you value.
Technique #3: Unless it’s patently destructive, listen to feedback respectfully and thank the giver for caring enough to try to be helpful to you. If you argue you’ll be less likely to get candid feedback the next time you ask.
Technique #4: Pan for any valuable nuggets of wisdom in your feedback, then discard the rest.