Why You Should Seek Critical Feedback And How To Give It
Critical feedback is the key to personal and professional growth, but many of us suck at receiving it and are too uncomfortable to provide it.
I’m nervous when I don’t receive critical feedback. I’m not sitting around waiting for it to come to me. I’m pretty proactive in asking for it, but I’m usually left feeling that it’s lacking. I needed to figure out what I was doing wrong…with both the work I wanted feedback on and how I was trying to get that feedback.
When I only hear positives, these just lead me to solidify my mistakes and they don’t allow me to come to recognize the errors (and then change them). It feels good to receive accolades, but they’re not the most helpful to me during the planning and execution stage.
Too many pats on the back can make a failed product or endeavor end like a punch in the face.
Asking for and receiving critical feedback is an act of preventative work. It allows you to see potential or small issues when they are still easily fixable. To ignore them or not look for them could lead to issues in your work, relationships, and overall communication manners.
A Fear of feedback
Unfortunately, we can suck at receiving feedback. Part of the issue is a more recent cultural shift toward a, “you exist, so you’re doing great now here’s your sticker!”, mentality. This creates a mindset in which if we just touch something, or try, then it’s good enough….and many times it most definitely is not.
Many people think or say they want feedback, but what they’re really only open to are compliments and congrats. Many of us have created a lifestyle in which we avoid harsh realities or feedback we may not want to hear. We cut friends, family, and partners out when they make us feel uncomfortable by stating their feelings, needs, or asking to understand our behavior.
This happened to me fairly recently. I told a good friend that I was hurt when she didn’t show up when I was going through a difficult time after my father’s death. Instead of taking this feedback in how she could show up for me and our relationship (which I gave in a very open and non-attacking way) she left me on “read” and I haven’t heard from her since. She wasn’t ready or willing to hear how she could have done something differently. In the end, it wasn’t a loss on my end.
Some of us also live by the phrase, “No news is good news”. Just because you’re not receiving feedback doesn’t mean you’re doing a good job. Unfortunately, some companies/schools/advisors/mentors don’t provide this unless the person specifically asks for it.
Reasons can range from legalities, lack of interest, or just them being uncomfortable with the idea of confrontation or saying something negative about you or your work.
Whatever the reason, we are getting comfortable with being coddled, and more uncomfortable with anything slightly outside our realm of perception. No matter how or when this mentality was instilled within us (usually during our childhood), we can make conscious effort to open ourselves back up to opportunities for growth.
“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” -Ken Blanchard
How to improve the feedback you receive and give??
You’re being held back in every area of life when you lack honest feedback. If you want to excel, you need to hear some no’s and some criticisms. Seek critical feedback because this is where opportunities for growth exist.
Here are some tips on how to receive better feedback:
- When you are seeking improvement and looking for useful feedback, it’s your responsibility to look at who is telling it to you.
Feedback from those more distant from yourself and your work is preferable. It’s tough to get critical feedback from those close to us, like family and friends. Most people in those categories would be hesitant out of fear of hurting us, fear of confrontation, or just wanting to avoid something awkward. Also, they’re super biased because it’s hard for them to separate you from whatever behavior, project, or idea they’re supposed to analyze.
- Find the right people. Who’s invested in your growth and who do you respect in the field or area you want to grow in? Again, avoid family and friends, but also be selective in who you seek out.
- Make yourself vulnerable and available to it. Become more approachable to receive it. This is all about our response to feedback. WHEN someone tells you something how do you respond? Aggressively or defensively? Or grateful and attentive?
I’ve even been hesitant to give feedback to employees under my supervision because I didn’t believe they were prepared to hear it. It wouldn’t matter how I framed it or how nicely worded it, I knew they would immediately jump to defense mode. When someone refuses to hear what someone has to say, it’s almost impossible to make progress together.
- If you’re in a leadership position, create a culture of open critical feedback by first asking for feedback. No one is perfect. In this way, you show vulnerability, and this builds trust. Demonstrate the desire and positives in giving and receiving feedback by using yourself as a model. People who feel they can express their experiences and views will be more open to hearing others themselves.
- Seek feedback on specific topics.“Am I doing okay at my job?”, won’t be as successful at eliciting useful feedback as something more like, “What’s your views on the communication methods I used during the team’s (whatever specific) project last month?”
- When you are providing feedback, cite specific examples as reference. General feedback is useless. It’s harder for the receiver to apply your comments and consider any real change when it’s a blanket statement. It’s hard to act on comments that aren’t prescriptive enough.
When you ask for feedback and receive some, then listen to understand, not to defend. I recommend these steps:
1. Shut up
3. Thank them for the feedback
4. Analyze the feedback after the conversation ends
5. Apply applicable points
An example: Someone asked if I wanted to hear their feedback after reading my first children's book I published. I was honored they had bought and read it, and even more so they were open to sharing their views.
She sent me a list of about six points. Some of them were useful, and so I took note of those to consider for when I started on my second book. Other ones did not apply to my situation at all. I originally wanted to respond with, “What do you mean you think it should be longer?! Do you know how much market research I did when selecting the page count?” Instead, I thanked her for sharing so willingly and openly with me and dumped the feedback I deemed inapplicable in my mental trashcan.
Poor feedback and receptiveness greatly hinders your chances of personal and professional growth and improvement. We all have blind spots. Other people are the keys that can shine a light on the habits and traits we have that we aren’t even aware of. The ability to receive and give critical feedback is a habit. This means it must be practiced, and that it can be learned.