Be careful what you ask for. Some folks are way too happy to dish it out!
Most of us crave feedback and validation of ourselves, our work and our art. We seek it out either by overtly asking, or through self-deprecation, and we always hope the response will be, “You rocked it!”
The more we are putting it out there and pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, the more we crave that validation, and the more it leaves us vulnerable to receiving (and believing) destructive feedback.
Who hasn’t had a conversation that started relatively well and then one person throws out the dreaded, “Can I give you some honest feedback?”
The little voice in your head is screaming, “I would rather crawl naked over broken glass!” but instead you say, “Sure”.
Why on earth do we agree? Is it because we are hoping there will be something positive that we can cling to, or is it because we believe that we should be tough enough to take it? Our society seems to encourage being tough.
The reality is, unless you are delusional, you probably know every mistake you made. Most people have a tendency to over criticize themselves without any help. Yet we are curious.
About That Presentation
Her: “Were you one of the people giving that online presentation?”
Me: “Yes.” Why?
Her: “Can I give you some honest feedback?”
Me, with bad feeling in gut: “Ok.”
Her: “It was a little boring. You didn’t engage the audience enough.”
Me: “I agree. We could have been a little more exciting. It will get better.”
Her: “Actually it was really boring.”
Me, Ouch: “It was our first try, and our goal was to get it going and improve as we go forward.”
Her, now on a roll: “And you should present your competitor’s solutions and then show your solution and how it is way better. And use the polling feature of the webinar software to ask questions, keep people engaged. Talk with passion.”
Her, making the big leap: “Maybe you should have someone else do the presentation in the future.”
Me, shifting the subject a little: “Have you ever done an online presentation?”
Her: “No. But I really need to start.”
Me, Doing an internal face palm: “Well, our goal was to get these going quickly and not get into perfection mode. We will improve them as we go. It is actually quite a different experience talking to your computer rather than to people you can’t see. We will continue to improve them and get better I am sure.”
Her: “Yes, good idea to just get going.”
Thank YOU for the honest feedback. It reminded me of a few powerful lessons.
What Just Happened?
This is what I think of as “constructive destructive feedback.”
Under the guise of providing feedback, she actually shot us down big time.
So is this a case of not accepting feedback because it is from a woman and we are guys?
I don’t think so.
I’ve seen this pattern used by men as well. My reaction is the same.
This kind of feedback serves some need of the person giving the criticism rather than serving a true benefit for the recipient.
People who do this claim it is part of what they believe, that they are just being honest.
And therein is the rub. Honesty seldom requires brutality.
Self-Reflection on Presentation Day
We pushed ourselves to launch a new online webinar presentation series, and get it up and running quickly. We put a lot of work into building out some great content. We were using new webinar software.
We decided to keep things simple and not use all the bells and whistles in the webinar software.
Most of the audience gave us good feedback. We were told our presentation had more meat in it than the typical webinar. We even signed up a few people to work with us.
Most suggestions for improvement were constructive. Things like, “I thought you could have done more selling.” Cool, we were worried we did too much. And “It will get even better with some practice.” Yeah, we think so too!
We did a post-webinar review with the presenters and our team. It was a decent first start, but quite a challenge presenting for 45 minutes to a computer rather than a silent and invisible audience. It takes practice of a different sort to pull off well.
We knew everything we did wrong. After all, we had a recording to analyse. We knew it could be better.
We tweaked the format, and I brought a second person into the room to play a more active role so there was someone to draw reactions from.
I am also quite aware that everyone has their own presentation style. Most people can’t pull off Tony Robbins’ style, nor should we. Because in reality, not everyone is attracted to that style, and only when we are presenting in an authentic style, do we resonate with the audience.
We practiced more and fine-tuned the presentation.
I’ve learned through performing that if you have to be perfect, you will never get out there. Most people don’t even know you made mistakes.
Our latest one went quite well.
If we had followed the advice, we would have stopped. Instead we got better.
Our Desire for Feedback
We are wired to fit in with other people. It is part of our survival traits.
So we seek feedback to know if we are fitting in. Because getting kicked out of the tribe way back in the day meant death.
Today, we interact with far more people on a regular basis. We don’t need everyone to like us.
Yet we want to try.
And that is a mistake.
The desire to fit in is part of what causes us to accept poor behavior, even abuse, from others. After all, we NEED the feedback in order to fit in. Or we are just afraid to say no.
Seth Godin is an extremely popular and successful marketer, speaker, writer and blogger.
He recommends we avoid feedback from the masses. It feeds what he calls the lizard brain, and has us focusing on pleasing everyone, rather than doing our best work. So we get paralyzed into inaction.
He doesn’t even allow comments on his blog, because he doesn’t want to start worrying about or anticipating what people will say — especially the haters.
He gives his best work and moves on, rather than staying mired in the past.
He is not really saying, “Don’t get feedback.”
Get feedback from people whose opinion is useful and who have your best interests in mind. Allow those people to keep you honest.
But these are the people who know how to help get the most out of you, not people who make you feel small and worthless.
Even well-meaning people can give you bad advice driven from their own fears. “Stay in the safe job. Don’t push yourself be better. Money isn’t everything.”
Who are you trying to please? The critics?
What if you focused your energy on giving your fans more of what they want, rather than focusing on the few who said you suck? You probably aren’t going to change their minds no matter what you do, and the energy could be used to serve the right people a lot better.
And the same goes for those of us who are business owners and leaders and have to provide feedback to our team. Dish it in a better way. Know your people well enough that you can encourage people to grow and become their best by giving them feedback in a way that matches them, not in a way that makes you feel better.
Not brutal feedback.
And that is what we really need to be encouraging through our approach. Give positive and supportive feedback with encouragement and a few white lies if necessary.
Sorry, I’ll take the dishonest feedback. It keeps us moving and getting better.
And in the future, I think I will discourage or ignore much more of the honest feedback.
Our best work is waiting to awaken, for those who will truly appreciate it.
Photo: Flickr/Karl Horton