March 7, 2013

Looking for Feedback?

I stopped in my tracks yesterday when I heard this "Giving feedback can be an awkward experience. Those who give it out -- employers, parents teachers -- can fear the reaction they'll get. Those who get it can feel embarrassed or unmotivated." Ok, not really... I was in the car, so stopping in my tracks would have been dangerous. The quote came from Stephen Dubner, of Freakonomics-fame and regular contributor to my favorite nerdy public radio show Marketplace.  And I couldn't agree more.

I hate feedback. I do not appreciate criticism - constructive or otherwise - EVER. I realize that this is not a quality to brag about (I'd bet the Forbes 500 list doesn't include critique-wimps like me), but I think I have a good reason. The way I see it, the person criticizing has rarely spent as much time as I have thinking, planning, weighing, implementing, tracking and assessing whatever-it-is that they do not like about my plan, decision, activity or work product. I believe that I invest more thought into my actions than most and it really grinds my gears when someone jumps-in with a piece of criticism and assumes I haven't already weighed the pros and cons of that option.

As soon as someone says "Well, I would have handled it this way", I lurch into defense mode: painstakingly arguing the multitude of reasons I disagree, something I am sure they don't care about whatsoever.  Totally not productive.

What IS the best way to deal with criticism? Grin and bear it? Release a tirade of disagreement? Probably neither. I've found the best way to respond is to tell the critic that I appreciate their interest and pivot to a question asking him or her to get involved in a more substantive way, to take ownership of the critique. This shifts the focus to the project itself (and off me) and maybe even brings in some extra help, attention or capacity to work on the solution. It also weeds out those critics who only have something to say and nothing to contribute.

Relating to my unproductive defensiveness, I could always try harder not to take things to heart. As Mr. Dufner said, "... there are two ways to look at [feedback]: you can either look at trying to make people happy or trying to make people better".

Read learn more about feedback - both positive and negative - here.

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