Most people believe professional friction comes only from the outside: a toxic workplace, an unsupportive manager, unreasonable customers, or plain old bad luck. But friction can come as much from within: blind spots about your behaviour, not accepting when you are wrong or have made a mistake, how you work with people, or how well you understand your real aspirations.
Early warning and introspection to try and remove friction that can limit your true potential is crucial. You don’t want to be in a situation where you are 45 years old, and can no longer make real changes. Few of us are so self-aware that we know what we are good at and what our limitations are. We generally do not see our blind spots, and we don’t know what we don’t know. So self-awareness is valuable currency here, as is being open to feedback.
The ability to receive feedback isn’t something we are taught, or fully understand the power of. It’s a crucial habit, and a powerful tool for reflection, change and improvement that we almost always underuse.
We all want and love positive reinforcement and feedback. Most of us manage to give such feedback as well. But we tend to feel awkward when it comes to giving “negative” feedback. And we are defensive when receiving such feedback. The usual response is to dismiss it. “What is this person saying? I don’t work this way. I am not like this.” We fear there is a flaw in us, and we are embarrassed by our failure. Best to avoid any feedback, much less ask for it.
However, giving and receiving feedback is a simple habit that can be developed. Enable yourself to have a frank conversation and don’t shy away from asking: How did I do? What do I need to change? This is a core skill that all professionals need to develop.
We suggest a simple technique to get started: Continue, start and stop. All you have to do is go to a family member, a friend, a boss, a customer or a colleague, and ask for:
■ One thing that you want me to continue to do (usually a strength or core value)
■ One thing that you think I should start doing that I don’t do
■ One thing I should stop doing
When the person is talking, just keep quiet and listen. Don’t justify, explain and reason even if you disagree. It isn’t easy. But making this a habit—and doing it with a certain degree of frequency—can be truly liberating and transformational. It can help demolish the fear of being criticized. Even when change might be difficult to effect, awareness that someone you value has said this, can stick. If the feedback is unfair or misplaced, it is your choice to not act on it. But if you dismiss genuine feedback, it will resurface again, trust us!
Make sure to ask for feedback frequently, but don’t overdo it. After important meetings that you have led, presentations you made, a note you prepared, projects you completed, or just every two-three months—at least twice a year. Over time, you will learn to glean feedback from conversations and discussions, you will not always need to ask; you will develop your feedback antenna.
Now, let’s understand how to give feedback. Building trust, and demonstrating that you are positive, constructive and considered, with the receiver’s best interest in mind, is the starting point for doing this right. Never give feedback when you are feeling emotional, upset, frustrated or angry.
■ Follow this simple storyline:
■ Here is what we observe (keep it objective) you do
■ This is the effect or impact it has (on us, on your work, on others) and how it limits your potential
■ Here is our suggestion on what and how you could do things differently. Keep it crisp. If the receiver wants to debate, back off.
Methods and techniques aside, feedback is a gift. Not getting any feedback—and not taking it in your stride—is as damaging as unfair criticism.
This is the fourth in the eight-part Art Of Work series on building a fulfilling career. Pramath Raj Sinha has founded several higher education institutions and Shreyasi Singh is a business author who now works in higher education. Read the first three columns in the series at Livemint.com/ArtofWork.