Three Ways To Gather Valuable Feedback

No one likes hearing reasons why they should change. Let’s be honest: criticism blows.

That’s exactly why the people who do listen usually make the most money.

Constructive feedback is one of the best ways to grow and earn more, but it’s also tough to come by. Here are three techniques that will help maximize the amount of constructive feedback you receive:

Technique #1: Ask the “stupid questions.”

Picture this: you’re sitting in an important business meeting. People are talking about concepts you barely understand. You’re trying to follow along, but are afraid to ask questions because you think you’ll look stupid. Worst of all, you’re an integral part of the project and it’s crucial that you know what’s going on.

Has this ever happened to you?

It certainly has to me…all too many times! And more often than not, it’s not your fault. People have a tendency of assuming that you kno

w the things they know – and a result, often forget to explain key concepts and ideas.

In the long run, people will judge you based on your results. If you consistently perform above expectations, people will not remember all of the “stupid questions” you asked.

And who knows – maybe you’re not alone! Perhaps others in the room are feeling the exact same way and want clarification. If this is true, you’re not just helping yourself, you’re improving the entire group dynamic and increasing the chances of success.

Sometimes it’s good to ask questions for the benefit of others even if you already know the answers. A personal example – several years ago, I was in a meeting with a potential business partner. My manager launched into a description of a new product that we had created and why it would be a great fit.

As the presentation wore on, I could see that the client was having trouble understanding some of the more technical aspects of this product. I also realized that the partner might feel uncomfortable asking questions because it would make him look stupid. So I started jumping in with clarifying questions would help the partner better understand where we were coming from. Although I probably looked stupid in the short-term, my questions helped facilitate the discussion, and my manager privately thanked me later for my contributions.

So don’t be afraid to speak out! Never be afraid to find out what you need to know…especially if it’s going to help you earn more money or avoid a potentially expensive mistake! Remember, chances are that if it’s important someone else will want to know as well.

Technique #2: Use “Red Flags” to Gather Feedback.

One of my favorite business books is “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. Written over ten years ago, this classic walks us through the stories of eleven companies who rose to greatness over a fifteen-year period. I was re-reading it the other day, and one concept – the “red flag mechanism” caught my eye:

“When teaching by the case method at Stanford Business School, I issued to each MBA student an “8.5 x 11” bright red sheet of paper, with the following instructions: “This is your red flag for the quarter. If you raise your hand with your red flag, the classroom will stop for you. There are no restrictions on when and how to use your red flag; the decision rests entirely in your hands. You can use it to voice an observation, share a personal experience, present an analysis, disagree with the professor, challenge a CEO guest, respond to a fellow student, ask a question, make a suggestion, or whatever. There will be no penalty whatsoever for any use of a red flag. Your red flag can be used only once during a quarter. Your red flag is nontransferable; you cannot give or sell it to another student.”

Why did Jim Collins do this? There are two good reasons – first of all, the ability to have a red flag is empowering. Often students are intimidated by their professors, and the red flag provides a great way to say what’s important to you without fear of penalty. In Collins’ classroom, one student used her red flag to state “Professor Collins, I think you’re doing a particularly ineffective job of running class today. You are leading too much with your questions and stifling our independent thinking. Let us think of ourselves.”

Normally, a student may have been too intimidated to say this, but the red flag provided an opportunity for Collins to improve his performance in real-time. This intimidation factor isn’t just seen in the classroom; it exists in the corporate world (subordinate and boss) and in family life (child and parent).

The second reason for red flag mechanisms is to help establish priorities. Collins makes it explicitly clear that the flag may only be used once per quarter. By limiting use of this powerful privilege, Collins makes his students think hard before using their one opportunity. As a result, the red flags won’t be used frivolously.

In the end, the red flag mechanism is simply a path to developing a freer and more open dialogue. It doesn’t matter whether you actually hand out red flags or not; the real point is to make it clear that, occasionally, when someone feels strongly about something, others should listen. The red flag mechanism is a great way to teach responsibility while gathering valuable information – whether in the corporate boardroom, staff meeting, or even parent-child interaction.

This brings us to…

Technique #3: Accept Constructive Criticism

“I can’t believe he said that about me. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Have you ever said something like this before? I certainly have. After all, being criticized isn’t fun. It is never easy to hear what is wrong with us. As a result, many people try to avoid being criticized, or choose to ignore it.

When I was a teenager, I couldn’t handle any form of criticism. I didn’t think I need to change (even though in reality I was changing faster than I could imagine). As I gradually matured, I realized that relationships and careers involve personal change, and listening to criticism was actually a huge opportunity.

Soon, I got to the point when I was actually happy when people criticized me! The reason: more information. There are basically two options – take the criticism and learn something, or ignore it and let the frustration bottle up within the other person. I’m not saying you need to act on every piece of advice, but at least this way you can make an informed decision.

At worst, you’ll have strengthened a relationship (thus building your personal brand) by letting someone blow off some steam. At best, you’ll learn something about yourself that can help you improve. Not a bad trade.

However, some people are shy about confrontation. They may want to criticize you but are uncomfortable with bringing it up. This is why I go out of my way to ask for criticism. This gives people an opportunity to voice their opinion while simultaneously giving me an opportunity to learn.

In fact, I’m going to do it right now: if you think there’s anything I could do to improve my blog, please contact me or leave a comment below.

Leave a Response