community building

Please rip my idea to pieces, or “the importance of getting feedback” from Proseed

This article first appeared in Proseed Magazine in Polish here and here and is about the importance of soliciting feedback

The English source is below

“Please rip my idea to pieces’, or ‘why feedback matters’

Imagine a British family where arguments are civilized, respectful and
logical (welcome to the Lucas family). If you think this is weird, talk to some family or friend who lives among the Brits.

“Dear Parent

I am getting annoyed with the criticism that I get from you and others. I am happy with things the way I do things, and they work for me. I am encouraged by you, and others to be self-confident and make my own choices. I don’t ask for your feedback – please stop telling me what you think about what I do”
Loyal Daughter”

“Dear Daughter

In family and private life, as in the world of work, you will get some feedback whether you like it or not.

Any business should encourage feedback from users of  their products and services, potential clients, and visitors/users of their web site (as well as their partners, suppliers, and employees).

Anyone reading this article should map this onto their own business world, ideas and plans and projects.

The feedback you solicit can be constructive or destructive. Ask what they think about:

You: your feelings, behaviour, performance and contribution to the world in which you live, the degree to which you are achieving your goals, and the impact your behaviour has on others.

Others.: What others think and feel about you and your behaviour

Events: over which you or others either do or don’t have control.

It is best to see feedback as a source of potentially valuable information.

A well managed feedback process gives you more information which increases the chances of you achieving your goals. By process I mean developing habits/routines, (ask once a day, week, or after particular events). It’s what a well run business does. Think how a waiter asks “how is the meal going, is everything OK?”

In his international bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” Daniel Goleman wrote about why people who were not intellectually smart were sometime more successful and happier than those who had higher IQ but lacked what he described as emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes self-awareness, self-control, and the ability to see things from other people’s point of view, and empathy.

In order to see things from other people’s point of view you need to know what their points of view are, and encourage them to tell you how things seem to them, listen and focus on what they really mean. If you care about the person from whom you are soliciting feedback, it is obvious why you should take notice of what they think and feel. You shouldn’t take for granted that just because you care about them (and they care about you) they will tell you.

It is tempting but wrong to think, “if I’m doing anything wrong and it matters someone will tell me”. People often don’t give critical feedback without being encouraged for reasons that are simple to understand. Many people react so badly to criticism that people may assume you don’t want it and stay quiet. People give much less constructive feedback much less often than they would do if you encouraged them. And in business a dissatisfied employee may quietly look for another job, or a client look for a better vendor, rather than tell you they don’t like the way you run your meetings, or that your web site is inconvenient.

But maybe you think you just “know what they are going to say” so you don’t need to ask, or you “know what they are going to say, and you don’t care” or “you know what they are going to say and you don’t want to hear it”.

Even in the most extreme case, if  you really don’t care what other people have to say about how you are for them, it is useful and productive for you to realise that other people’s perspectives will contain valuable information.

Even if you don’t care some of the time, by asking open questions “what do you think I am getting wrong?” “how can I improve?” you give yourself useful information to use if you want to improve things on other occasions. A business may “know“ that some staff don’t always like training and social events in the evening or at weekends, but it is still good to check how widespread that feeling is. Maybe your best employees appreciate the training, and it is only the moaners who complain.

If the reasons for not asking for feedback is that you are worried that it might very negative, bear in mind that people tend to be pleased to have their views taken into consideration. When Ryanair asked me what I thought of their service,  I disliked them less for the fact that they let me tell them how much I disliked their ticket buying process. Additionally, if you ask what other people expect from you they may well tell you things that you weren’t expecting that were positive, and they will appreciate the fact that they you are showing an interest in them.

As a younger businessman I used to hate it when I heard negative things about my ideas, and avoided such conversations. It was a  mistake. I know now that it is a sign of self-confidence to ask people for their feedback and an opportunity to gain information than can be used to improve things.

It’s important to bear in mind that even big companies with millions of clients regularly get feedback from their clients and potential clients in the form of market research. It’s so much more important than that to get feedback from the most important people in your life , your family and friends

By initiating feedback you have control of the process. If people are giving the opportunity to give feedback it also can be a safety valve letting off pressure before a row occurs. A sister, brother or parent who is getting more and more annoyed with you may finally explode when it doesn’t suit you and say and do things that are so annoying that you don’t really get to hear how you could have fixed the problem that caused the explosion. By having a regular feedback sessions you take control of the timing, give yourself the opportunity to deal with issues that arise in your own time, and in the place that suits you.

It’s good to develop a set of questions that stimulate constructive criticism as opposed to negativity. The constructive criticism framework is just four questions.
1 What is the problem ?
2 What are the causes of the problem
3 What are the potential solutions ?
4 Which one is best?

In the context of a business or a project these questions are important. but in family life a statement like “what was good and bad about the way I did things this weekend and is there anything I can do to improve also makes a huge difference to the quality of family life.

A badly run and led business will most probably die. A badly functioning family does not disintegrate, it just limps on.

If you are finding it hard to talk about “tough stuff” a great book is “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most”. The authors argue that a difficult conversation can be broken down into three conversations: about “What Happened”, about “How each party feels” and  “what was each parties contribution to what happened and how they each feel”. It’s very useful as often one side is raging about how they feel while the other is arguing about what really happened (for example).    

If you have a business idea, start conversations with “please tear my idea apart”. It’s the start of getting control of your feedback process.

Above all, remember that getting feedback does not mean that you have to act on it. You are still responsible for what you say and do.