I’m my biggest critic, but I’m also my least effective critic.
We all are. If you ask someone to list their biggest weaknesses you’ll get canned responses about being a perfectionist or a workaholic. Maybe you’ll get some really strong self-loathing comments, but you won’t get good quality feedback.
How many people would call themselves insensitive, poor performers, or actually admit that…
Wait for it…
You don’t know it all?
Be honest, not many. The best of the best can do this effectively (and guess what, I’m not one of them).
Elon has many quotes on this topic but what he said in Foundation 20 puts it best:
“I think in terms of advice, I think it is very important to actively seek out and listen very carefully to negative feedback. This is something people typically tend to avoid because it’s painful. But I think this is a very common mistake – to not actively seek out and listen to negative feedback.”
Seeking negative feedback is the number one thing Elon cites when he’s interviewed about the topic of his success and what makes a good character trait in a leader.
If the idea of sitting in front of someone and asking them for negative feedback scares the crap out of you, I have mapped out ten hard questions to ask when seeking negative feedback at the end of this post.
If you actually like a good ego smackdown (or someone else’s) you’ll enjoy this story…
I began seeking negative feedback late in college (note: I’m what you call a recovering JERK).
Yeah, a jerk; that guy that knew it all, thought he was great at everything and didn’t need or want anyone else’s opinion. You probably know a few.
But when you’re a jerk, you only have about three friends, all of which are the same type of people as yourself… Fortunately, I realized that I had to become a better person. I did this through many ways but the way that had the fastest results was seeking negative feedback from close friends and then eventually, co-workers and bosses.
One memory that
haunts me – I mean sticks out – was during the last review of my engineering co-op. I was looking for the parting wisdom that I could take with me through the rest of my career. Sitting there, across the conference room table I had it laid on me.
I was told about my professional shortcomings, lack of confidence in my work, and even the fact that my reviewer was surprised I had just been accepted into the leadership program for the corporate office of the Fortune 500 I had been co-oping with for four semesters.
Again, it was THICK.
I was taken aback, I had never been served such a hearty bowl of truth-stew in my life. Everyone around me had always fed my ego, not destroyed it.
At that moment, I took stock in what my boss was saying, she was someone I had looked up to during my co-op years and I knew that if I wanted to succeed that I would need to listen.
I took that negative feedback and used it in my next position in the leadership program. And wouldn’t you know it, 8 months later, sitting in front of my new boss I was labeled overconfident.
From zero confidence to overconfident?
In 8 months? Is that a record?
OK, so sometimes we tend to take negative feedback, beat ourselves into a pulp, and then begin to act out what we think is the best solution.
Please, don’t be like me. I tend to take things to the extreme; there’s no need to do that. If you want further proof I once gave myself a stress fracture by training twice a day, 6 days a week for a month.
That was after recovering from a separated shoulder. Again, don’t be like me.
Don’t expect results overnight.
If you think businesses take hard work, personal growth takes much, much more hard work.
When seeking negative feedback make sure you get it from someone you trust and who works closely with you.
The obvious choice is a boss or a mentor, that’s what I had always sought, but the best manager I’ve had to date sat me down and laid some fantastic advice on me.
If you want a real ego beating (and likely the best data), seek out negative feedback from your coworkers and direct reports.
If you’re a manager of any type, I highly suggest having one on one sessions with your direct reports in a neutral location (not your office).
Let your guard down, be vulnerable, be honest, and push them for negative feedback. Make it safe.
That exercise alone will provide you with enough ego crushing data to keep you in negative head speak for the next month. Don’t let it crush you, use your negative feedback to motivate yourself to become the person you want to become.
For example, I have 18 direct reports now. I sat down with each of them after my first 6 months in my new position.
I thought life was good, that the team was strong, and that generally I was well liked.
I was dead wrong…
… and this isn’t my first rodeo leading or seeking negative feedback. I heard it all from personality conflicts, questioning how much I liked my job, and someone even asked if I had enough experience for the position.
Tough crowd, but I took everything to heart and looked back on some of my past conversations with these individuals. I had been wrong, I made a few bad decisions and I rubbed a few people the wrong way.
Remember – I’m a recovering jerk. Sometimes, I relapse. We all do. It’s 2 steps forward, 1 step back, repeat.
Since those sessions things have improved, but the biggest change in my team is that anyone can walk up to me and give me feedback when it’s necessary. In fact, our team has the highest productivity in the company and I attribute this in large part to the open lines of communication I have with them.
Once the door is open, you will have a consistent source of constructive negative feedback. It is very hard to get there, but the returns are exponential.
Austin and I use this open door policy to write – we are two boring engineers at heart. We constantly have to challenge each other to step up our energy, clearly communicate what is in our heads, and get over our “GREAT” ideas to deliver everyone relevant information. We do this through open communication and honest, negative feedback.
This stuff works folks.
If you’re running a business and you’ve seen sales or traffic trend in the wrong direction consider prompting your customer base for information.
You need to listen to people you serve and work for (that’s called servant leadership – if you need an example check out Pat Flynn); those people have the best insight into how you can change your business forever.
For example, here at YoPro Wealth, when we have the next big idea or notice a negative trend we use a small focus group of our email list to seek negative feedback. Truth helps cut through your ego blinders. It’ll show you how to fix your problems.
I believe in this tactic so much I’ll share three of the top ten hard questions I ask when seeking negative feedback from your customers, employees, coworkers, etc.
Please use this guide to get your thoughts together and approach this with excitement, not dread.
How do I waste your time?
You may not even realize it, but that drop in conversation you had with your boss, client, or report might have been off putting. Consider asking everyone you interact with how you waste their time. Take those results and learn to value other’s time.
Are there any conversations that we have had that have left you feeling insulted?
Our intentions and our results are not always the same, especially when feelings are involved. Chances are, you’ve had a few conversation that didn’t go as planned. Ask the people you interact with on a daily basis if you’ve ever insulted them. Apologize the for instance, be genuine, and use that data to change the way you approach conversations with those individuals in the future.
Do you feel appreciated?
A simple handshake and an “attaboy” can go a long way but often do you actually give those out? Ask those people you depend on most (including customers) how often they feel appreciated when you interact with them. If you find that you have a lot of disgruntled folks around you, think about using the “7 Penny” trick. Put 7 pennies in your left pocket and throughout the day attempt to give out 7 compliments, after each one transfer a penny into the right pocket. Don’t end your day without showing your appreciation at least 7 times.
A word of caution, beware of the haters out there. Some people, when given the chance, will be hurtful and not constructive.
Not all jerks have recovered.
You can spot a hater by being honest with yourself. Always run negative feedback through your past experiences and see if you can spot the flaws people are pointing out. If it feels hurtful and not truthful then it’s probably not constructive negative feedback. I’m not saying you won’t have your feelings slightly hurt if it’s true negative feedback but it’s easy to identify those that are just trying to attack you.
It’s also probably good to note that it may be difficult to get people to give you negative feedback. Most will feel uncomfortable with the process, but again, if you make it safe and make them understand that you want the feedback so that you can improve you will be successful.
Wow – I write a lot. If you’ve got lost as you skimmed the post, here are the key takeaways:
Takeaway #1: Constructive negative feedback can uncover your flaws that are preventing you from reaching your goals.
Takeaway #2: Seek negative feedback from those that work and live closely with you or from your customers – make is safe for them.
Takeaway #4: Use that data and improve yourself or your business, be honest with yourself and cross reference the negative feedback with your past experience to identify your flaws and failures.
Takeaway #5: Beware of the haters.
If you are still stuck with your current goals consider seeking negative feedback. It worked for Elon and now he’s a billionaire. I promise you that you will be surprised by what you hear and if you take it to heart you will find ways to improve yourself.
Please share any stories you have about seeking negative feedback and the result it had on your career or business in the comments section below.
Take Control. Make Money. Live Wealthy.