When was the last time you asked for help?
Asking for help and soliciting feedback are critical to your personal and professional growth and development. Whether you’re a CEO of a large business, a small-business owner or are in the early stages of a start-up, outside help is critical to the health of your business. Ask yourself, “Do I know everything? Do I act like I know everything?” If you answer yes, then you may be unconsciously missing out on many opportunities for new growth by not being open to new knowledge, techniques, practices, modes of thoughts, and the countless other forms of improvement that can lead to optimizing all areas of your life, professionally and personally.
The thing is, listening to advice and guidance can feel like an ego hit. After all, you’re acknowledging that you may not have all of the answers. It can leave you feeling vulnerable and can diminish an authoritative frame/persona that you otherwise carry. In effect, it’s not always fun; so in return, many leaders surround themselves with “yes-men” and “yes-women” who, whether or not they know it, are often master feedback illusionists.
You meet with these people. You bring together your team. You state your plan, and after you’re done, you ask for feedback. Hearing none, and seeing a series of pre-programed head nods, you, for better or worse, go forward doing something that you believe has been vetted. Sound familiar?
In defense of the nod mob, it’s likely that everyone there is very smart and has a lot of beneficial feedback locked up inside of them. They’re likely just the victim of company culture. It’s possible that the organizational structure that you have built includes a team that looks for you to provide critical thought. In effect, they have, for better or worse, outsourced critical thinking, a very energy-consuming task, to you. Compounding the issue, if you’re a small business owner or an executive in the organization, you are likely a master multi-tasker. You’ve covered all of the bases before. You’ve developed skills in multiple areas, and you understand every aspect of your business. You’re someone that has the answers and does what needs to be done. But this attitude of doing everything yourself can hinder your organization’s sustainability and ability to adapt.
If this strikes a chord, you are a top candidate to benefit by building a culture of communication advice and soliciting feedback. Hearing feedback, particularly when it is critical is not for the faint of heart. It can be very uncomfortable to not only listen but also to show discipline and refrain from interjecting. For this reason, it may take some time to change habits until you begin to receive quality feedback, and it not always as simple as saying, “Ok, team. Give it to me straight. What do you think about this new program???” When you listen, do not merely think about what you’re going to say in response. Absorb it, and reflect upon it, and then choose what do with it. Listening and accepting feedback can be tough; but, what good things aren’t difficult the first time around?
Depending on the circumstances or the industry you’re in, feedback can inspire the next round of personal and professional improvements. Just as you may ponder on what someone said, many technology firms base all of their software development on a similar feedback loop. They collect and analyze customer feedback, then reflect upon that feedback and determine how best to implement a response in the form of bugfixes and enhanced capabilities, and then they introduce new capabilities before repeating the cycle again (see figure 1).
To listen and be open to other people’s advice requires emotional intelligence, diplomacy, self-awareness, and patience. According to Garvin & Margolis from the Harvard Business Review White Paper (2015), guidance seekers have overcome cognitive biases, self-serving rationales and other flaws in logic as they solve issues and problems at hand. In effect, guidance-seekers are thoughtful. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be weary to a degree. As with many other things, balance is key. As you seek feedback, watch out for these pitfalls to get the most out on good advice:
Biased Perspective – If the only people providing feedback are those who are intricately involved in the entire process, they may be unintentionally biased have lost their ability to objectively analyze a situation. At the same time, who knows better than the person doing the work? Just keep in mind his/her bias and consider it along with their feedback. Biased feedback isn’t always bad feedback.
Credibility Gap – Take credibility into account when setting aside time to listen to feedback. Often this is done indirectly by taking care in who you surround yourself with, influencing from who you solicit feedback. When getting advice from someone, determine whether it is from their personal experience, knowledge gained from a primary source, or some other legitimate perspective. If you find that someone is expressing an uninformed opinion fraught with emotion, it’s unlikely high-quality feedback.
On an end note, you can’t see the spot on which you stand. You don’t see everything that those around you can. Help is essential no matter your field, and if you want feedback, the first thing to do is ask. For customers, this can come in the form of standing call, an email survey through Survey Monkey, or even a comment box. For friends or co-workers, this can happen by setting aside 1-on-1 time. For a more objective perspective, this can come from a consultant or business coach.
Everybody has ideas, and many of these ideas are valuable. Seek them out. When you have found an idea that can lead to an improvement, act on it with determination!