How to get honest, useful feedback
Most of us have selective hearing, albeit unconsciously. But when you tune out important feedback, you pay the price. Here are three steps to getting – and hearing – the honest information you need.
I had surgery recently. My excellent surgeon explained the process to me in detail. He told me it would take an hour and 30 minutes, and have a three week recovery period. I came out of that appointment convinced that it was a 30 minute procedure with a one week recovery.
It doesn’t take Freud to tell you that I was a textbook case of denial. Really hearing what he told me was too threatening, so I heard what I wanted to hear. When I realised what I’d done (and stopped laughing at myself) I got to thinking: Where else do we use selective hearing in our lives? In particular, what are we ignoring in our businesses and what can we do about it?
We often hear about the importance of getting feedback. But when you get it, do you really hear it? You don’t have to agree with all the feedback you get. But make sure you consciously decide to disagree, and that you’re not just filtering it out, unawares, through selective hearing.
What are you afraid of?
With the doctor, I was afraid of kicking the bucket. Hopefully in your day-to-day business dealings that’s less of a concern. However, it’s pretty normal to be afraid of rejection and criticism. Of course, you’d prefer it if every client had a stellar experience and thanked you for changing their life. And sure, sometimes a big fat slap on the back is exactly what you need. In the long run, though, if what you’re offering is falling short, you want to hear about it. You want to take that short term pain so that you can gather that valuable data and use it to improve.
"Instead of “How was the meal?” try “What are three things could we have done differently to make this better?”"
Likewise, people are often afraid to give the honest feedback that you need. If you ask them how the meal was, they say “fine”. That’s a long way from “incredible”. To me, “fine” is bad feedback. All too often, we take feedback at face value. It’s easy, polite… and useless.
Want more articles like this? Check out the communication skills section.
So how do you get real feedback?
Make it safe for you
Remember why you want this feedback. If there’s a hole in your ship that you can’t see, you want to know about it. If you’re sailing fast but haven’t noticed some ways to sail faster, you want to know that too. Take constructive feedback for what it is – an incredibly valuable gift.
Make it safe for others
Let people know that you will accept all constructive feedback, even the harsh stuff. Explain how useful the real deal is for you. The more you interact with people, the more they’ll know you mean it.
Instead of “How was the meal?” try “What are three things could we have done differently to make this better?”
Instead of “Rate us out of 5” try “What are two things you liked most and two things you liked least?”
Instead of “How likely are you to refer us to others?” try “What would have to change before you’d be a raving fan?”
You get the idea.
Fill in the gaps
In The Sixth Sense, Bruce Willis saw what he wanted to see. Make sure you’re not doing the same thing. Ask yourself: what’s been left out? What’s been toned down? What are the facts (sales numbers, repeat business) telling me? What would my inner tough-guy tell me I’m ignoring? Where else can I go? Forums like those on Flying Solo can be a good place to test an idea.
What about you? Do you listen properly to feedback or do you have selective hearing? What tips would you change or add to make this article better?