How to get feedback

In the summer of 2004, Hours before John Kerry’s nomination speech at the Democratic convention, the political editor of the Washington Post, Maralee Schwartz, punched me in the stomach with vicious comments.

  • I was covering Kerry for The Post. But she said I didn’t write fast enough or think big enough to capture this historic moment. John Harris (a Post star who later co-founded Politico with us) got the call.
  • I was angry. She was right.

Why it matters: “Feedback is a gift,” say management gurus. But in my experience running two companies, it’s a gift most don’t really want.

  • It’s true at work and in relationships. Every time my wife gives me her opinion, I respond defensively and tell her all the reasons why I rock 😉.

But learn to accept the gift of wisdom and humility is a superpower that we all need. It is the gateway to growth.

  • Whether in the workplace or in a relationship, feedback—an honest, BS-free look at what you could do better—is priceless. Too many people mess it up by talking instead of listening.

Here is my blunt feedback on receiving forceful feedback:

  1. Listen! Don’t make excuses or talk about the past. Actually, don’t talk at all. Soak in, with self-confidence and humility, what the person is saying and take some time before responding. when are they finish, you can say “Good point” if you agree… or “I hear you” if you want to think more about it. Or simply: “Thank you.”
  2. Assume a positive intention. The selfish approach for the other person would be to suppress what they really think. If someone has the guts to be honest with you, hug them and thank them. When Mike asks for criticism from people, he says, “I promise to take it in the spirit it’s meant for.”
  3. Don’t be defensive. That’s the worst response to helpful comments. It makes the person giving it feel unheard, and less likely to speak directly to you in the future.
  4. Ask for it. You are more likely to get feedback if you ask your peers or superiors, in an honest, humble and open way, how you could be more effective. Project strength, not weakness.
  5. Do something about it. If you show that you are receptive, you will get more information. And you will improve in life and at work.

Case in point: Often when you are giving a face-to-face review, people will validate and vindicate areas of weakness in the written evaluation.

  • “Jim doesn’t listen” or “Jim makes too many excuses” or “Jim doesn’t take constructive criticism.”
  • If I then start selling excuses or covering my ass, I’ve already made your point.

The bottom line: Life is about moving forward. Get and take feedback to make your personal and professional performance better tomorrow than today.

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