Feedback accelerates learning

Feedback helps you better see the reality of world around you. It allows you to correct mistakes and learn faster. Feedback gives you an opportunity to gain empathy by seeing different perspectives, and it shines a bright light on your blind spots, improving your decision-making ability. Better relationships and improved performance are the result. Helpful feedback returns both positive and negative information about your actions. Without it, we are driving blind.

I remember the first time I received feedback at work. As a new manager who wanted to be liked, I was blindsided when some of my direct reports said I did not seem interested in helping them advance their careers. This feedback was hard to hear, and my first reaction was to be defensive. In my mind, I was a good manager. But after I took time to really consider their complaints, I concluded they were right. Receiving these comments provided me an opportunity to change my behavior, and I chose to invest more time supporting their professional development.

Feedback is a rare and valuable resource

Direct, honest feedback is hard to find because very few people are willing to tell you the truth. Most people want to avoid conflict, and they don’t want to jeopardize their relationship with you. Feedback from family, friends, or work colleagues is often influenced by conflict of interest. For example, you may want to tell your boss that you don’t need to be micromanaged, but you don’t want to upset her as that could negatively affect your evaluation and future compensation. In that situation, it will be hard for you to provide the most honest feedback to your boss.

Or maybe you’re considering getting feedback from your parents about your idea to change careers. But you borrowed money from them in the past to buy a house, and your new career would mean making less money. Your parent’s feedback on your career change idea will likely be influenced by the money you owe them.

Few people are trained to give and receive feedback. Receiving feedback requires humility and a desire to learn. And it requires you to practice active listening, monitoring your emotions so you do not become defensive. When you give feedback, make the recipient feel you have their best interest in mind and deliver direct and constructive comments. For best results, give feedback immediately or soon after the action you want to comment on.

To strengthen a relationship, build into it a frequent reciprocal feedback loop. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable — vulnerability builds trust. Allow yourself to be vulnerable by proactively owning your mistakes. Invite and welcome feedback to demonstrate your receptivity to it.

Get feedback from people with diverse perspectives and experience. Don’t live in an echo chamber. When I talk about “diversity,” I’m not referring solely to race, gender, or sexual orientation because these can be poor proxies for true cognitive diversity. Seek out people who have truly different skills, experiences, and worldviews. They will expose your blind spots. Challenge yourself to accept feedback from someone you dislike. I admit this is hard to do, but we can learn from everyone, including people we don’t like.

Ways to cultivate feedback

  • Ask. If you don’t ask, you will rarely receive. Ask for feedback frequently and from people with diverse perspectives. Provide context, set expectations, give permission to be critical, and ask for specific examples. Phrasing is important. For example, don’t ask, “What do you think about my idea?” Instead ask, “What is wrong with this idea?”
  • Show humility. Proactively share your mistakes or weaknesses. Don’t be defensive and welcome feedback even if you disagree.
  • Listen actively. Repeat back key points before responding to ensure you are absorbing the feedback correctly. This provides an opportunity for the giver to correct your interpretation.
  • Embrace responsibility. Take responsibility for your actions or role in the situation.
  • Act. Feedback has little ultimate value if you don’t take action on what you learn. Act on the feedback and demonstrate that you are taking it seriously and trying to improve.

Feedback accelerates learning. Embrace feedback to help correct mistakes quickly and improve your performance and relationships. When you take feedback to heart, you will make better decisions.


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