01 August 2015 11:37:59 IST

Feedback is a blessing, value it

Whether you are a giver or a receiver, treat feedback with honesty and purpose

Success is the fruit of many an attribute. Characteristics such as diligence, intelligence, commitment, and resilience enable an individual to surge ahead on their journey towards success.

Few successful people are gifted with formal education in premier institutions, while others may be blessed with nurturing parents and wise mentors who support them all the way. There are some who have ‘Lady Luck’ on their side. And there are those who are blessed with both. But there is one common factor that is noteworthy when you see success stories of people: it is the quality of feedback they have received during their careers and the manner in which they have assimilated both positive and critical feedback to work to their benefit.

Performance improvement

The ability to give and receive feedback is an important skill for executive success. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines feedback “as helpful information or criticism” that is given to someone to help improve performance, a product, a situation and so on. The objective of developmental feedback is singular: performance improvement. The person who is providing the feedback is interested in helping the receiver rectify his errors and raise his game.

Among the popular tools used in leadership development, multi-rater feedback, commonly known as 360-degree feedback is considered a robust mechanism that provides all round feedback in one go. In a classical 360-degree feedback process, an executive, based on his role, invites and receives feedback from multiple stakeholders like his manager, peers, and direct reports, internal or external customers.

This helps him understand where he stands in the perspective of people he is working with.

Receive feedback with equanimity

A balanced and structured feedback will more often resemble a mixed bag. It is common knowledge that people are very happy to receive positive feedback but get defensive, are in denial, and at times even aggressive when critical feedback comes their way. Positive feedback can come from any quarter, but what is important is to thank the individual and acknowledge the feedback. Handling positive feedback is relatively easy to both giver and receiver as it is primarily praise and encouragement.

Negative feedback, can on the other hand, be a tough proposition. The standard responses are anger, denial, defensiveness and excuses with typical responses like “that is not me or you are not right”. While we are happy to receive and accept all the positive feedback, why use a different yardstick and approach for critical feedback? Human tendency is to treat positive feedback as earnest and natural but challenge negative feedback and assign an underlying reason to it.

The key is to cultivate a ‘Buddha’-like mindset and develop a sense of equanimity in dealing with positive and critical feedback. While not everyone can maintain the composure like the Buddha, to be level headed and composed all the time, one can work on a poised attitude that accepts, reflects and works on feedback be it good or negative.

“Perception is reality”

Other typical responses from a person being given negative feedback are ‘that's not true’, ‘I never do such things’, ‘and I guess you don't know me well enough’. The cardinal rule to remember and internalise is that “Perception is reality”. Nobody can look into our intentions or our thoughts and hence people look at our observable behaviours, communication and other visible aspects like body language to make their own mental assessment of us.

So, remember it is all about perception.

Positive feedback is a morale booster and a feel good factor, but it is negative or critical feedback that nudges us towards improving ourselves. So there is no call to react defensively to negative feedback. If we do, we may be content with the delusionary comfort that as we have not accepted the feedback, it does not hold true. By doing this we are simply denying ourselves an opportunity to correct and improve our personality or performance. Like the Johari Window technique (used to help people better understand their relationship with self and others) postulates, all of us have blind spots. This technique, which is an integral part of b-school’s communication curriculum, dwells at length on blind spots and how objective feedback throws light on those blind spots to aid improvement.

None of this goes to say that one should accept all the negative feedback as gospel truth. The key is acknowledging the feedback without blindly accepting it. Critically examine the feedback in a calm manner and also check if you are receiving similar feedback from multiple people. There can be one or two people who may be prejudiced, but keep a close watch on emerging patterns. When you receive some very critical feedback with which you strongly disagree, you could ask questions to clarify. Request the person to elaborate with a genuine intention to understand and improve. If there are blind spots, you certainly need assistance to discover, examine, and rectify the negatives.

Receiving feedback is just the first step in the long process of self-development. The more important part is how we make the necessary course corrections in our attitudes and behaviours. Politely receiving feedback but doing nothing about it is likely to disappoint and frustrate the person who is offering this gift to you.

Success and satisfaction

World renowned psychiatrist, Carl Jung said: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Critical feedback is annoying to hear and irritating as well leaving us with nothing but sheer anger and deep frustration. However, when reflected upon calmly we recognise the truth in it and seek to correct it.

Do keep an open mind to receive the gift of truth and do follow up with actions to address it. A series of well-intentioned feedback will serve as a reliable road map in your life's quest to success and satisfaction.

As Bill Gates puts it: We all need people who will give us feedback. That's how we improve. And today, the latest iteration of Windows operating system, the Windows 10 with its world wide release seeks feedback on all aspects of the OS through frequent pop up. Even after 30 years as market leader, this software giant wants to hear feedback. That’s sthe only way to improve.

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