It doesn’t matter whether you’re a chef at a Michelin Star restaurant or a highly skilled mechanic who can tear down and rebuild an engine in a day. We can always get better. The search for better is something that can consume us if we aren’t careful. Sometimes we get so focused on getting better that we can stray into areas that may or may not matter to us and to our own personal definition of success. But there’s one thing that applies across all walks of life in our human endeavors; feedback.
In my day job, we give and get feedback on a regular basis. Sometimes almost daily. It can be feedback from the systems and things that we do, but the most important feedback usually comes from the people we interact with on a daily basis. This feedback has the potential to change your life, but whether that’s a good or a bad change depends largely on the people that are interacting. So what are two ways that you can make feedback work for you and ensure that your feedback works for your audience?
1 When you get feedback, you have control. The skill of not getting emotionally invested in feedback is one that is difficult to master. Being able to control your own mental state is not something that comes easily to many of us, but if you can master that aspect of yourself then you can take and use feedback will disregarding things that don’t apply or incorrect; after all we are all only human. Two ways that I have found that are very effective in keeping the right mind state for feedback are time and context. The time one is really straightforward; read the feedback or get the feedback from the person and don’t react. Walk away. Depending on how much it affects you you may need to walk away from it for a day or even a week. But once you come back your emotion will have drained away at least a little bit, and you can look at the feedback and what was said or what was offered and evaluate it for whether or not it has true value to you. Context is a little bit more difficult to wrap your mind around. it was best summed up by a close friend of mine who delivered me the quote, “Don’t take criticism from people you wouldn’t go to for advice.” Ultimately the motivations of the person giving the feedback are important as well. So as the receiver being able to figure out what the background of the person who gave you the feedback is and how it affects what they say and the way in which they say it is going to be really important to understanding and internalizing any changes you need to make based on that feedback.
2 Giving feedback is a skill. It’s not something that people are just born into, although those that are really good may make it seem that way. Anytime I give anyone feedback, I make sure to ask them what their goal is. Do they want to be the best? Do they want to get a little bit better? Do they want to improve in one certain area? All of these things are important when you craft feedback. If you’re telling someone how they can improve one area, and that’s not the area that they are interested in, then at best that feedback is going to be completely ineffective. At worst it’s going to be seen as an attack, and unexpected, and it will completely shut down the person you are trying to help. That doesn’t mean to sugarcoat everything; the worst feedback is nice feedback.
When I was teaching these concepts in the classroom, the catchphrase I would use to remind people of how to give the best feedback is aggressive empathy. You have to be aggressive and let people know exactly what you think they should do to become better or they’ll never act on it; by the same token you have to truly have their best interests at heart and you have to be able to communicate that effectively when you’re delivering your feedback.
If people know you care about them, they will take your words a lot more close to heart. So when you’re receiving feedback, know that it’s an opinion, and truly believe that the person giving it has your best interests at heart. When you’re giving feedback, try and be aggressive and empathetic simultaneously. And as a good friend and mentor of mine always says, let’s go be better together!