Getting Good at Getting Feedback
post # 126 — July 6, 2006 — a Careers, Client Relations, Managing post
Our progress at work and in life depends on what other people think of us. What we think of ourselves is irrelevant data
There are a thousand things I wish somebody had told me early on in my professional (and personal) life, that I needed to work at improving and never knew about because I didn’t know how I was coming across, or what the other person’s expectations were. All too frequently, I only found out the hard way.
People very rarely tell you the truth about yourself, which makes it even more important that you develop ways to get feedback on how you REALLY come across to the rest of the world. (In many ways, I still don’t know the real truth about this.)
Even when they do try to get feedback, some people tend to wait until the end of things (a year, a project, an affair) to solicit feedback about what they COULD HAVE done better (or differently) This is all way too late.
The real key to success is being able to ask for feedback on a relationship, and act on it, while it is still going on.
Remember that people NEVER tell you the truth on formal occasions. It’s a rare boss that’s going to be completely candid during a formal appraisal, and a rare client that reveals something dramatically new or surprising in a formal feedback system. And you’re certainly not going to say “OK, darling, let’s sit down and make a list of what we don’t like about each other!”
If you’re ever going to develop the skill of getting feedback (and it is a skill) then you need to find ways to make it informal. Get out of the office to have this conversation. (Or if it’s a personal relationship, break the routine and do something like going out for walk together!)
As marketers have discovered with formal focus groups, if you really want to get at something useful, then you need to find out is not what people have to say when they are in a logical, analytical mode, but what they FEEL about you. Scary stuff, but absolutely essential to know this if you are to get on in life!
Try subtle, gentle language: “If I had to change one thing about how we interact, what would you recommend we work on?” Find a friend or colleague, at work or in your social crowd, who you think will tell you the truth about yourself. Some clients, over a drink, will give you an honest and helpful answer to that question. So will some subordinates.
Good or bad, you need to take time to think about what people say, avoid reacting in real time (REALLY tough!) and internalize it. You can neither ignore it nor overreact to it.
Most importantly, if you’re going to ask, be ready to change.
Anyone else got some tips about how you get good at what the Scots poet Robert Burns called “the power to see ourselves as others see us”? (Many people know that line, but how many know the rest of the poem? It’s about seeing an insect crawl out of the wig of a fine lady all dressed up!)
We all know we SHOULD be good at getting feedback. But how, exactly, DO you really get good at this?