When was the last time that somebody honestly and directly criticized you or your business?
If you have not gotten guidance, feedback, comments, suggestions, or outright criticism from somebody in the last 24 hours, then you may have a problem. Feedback, in its various forms, is the basis of good and on-target decision making — and one of the most common problems in business is when managers or entrepreneurs carry on day-to-day without it.
Feedback is critical to adapting to our highly complex environment, because even the smartest of us does not have a complete view of ourselves, our markets, or the effect of our actions. It is a matter of earned wisdom that we come to the point where we recognize the value of listening openly to all criticism with the intent to find the heart of truth that may be within it. Constantly. Even the smartest among us needs feedback as without guidance from friends, advisors –and importantly; the critics– we all greatly increase our chances of running off-track.
While it may be natural to try to avoid criticism, the truth is that there is only one way to avoid it: “Do nothing, Say nothing and Be nothing.”
If you don’t have feedback built-into your environment, it is for one of 3 reasons:
1 ) You’re Not Listening. Could it be that there are valid sources of criticism around you that you ignore, discount, or don’t notice?
2) You Are Blocking It. Could it be that people don’t feel open to offer feedback? Are you visibly open to feedback, or a closed door that nobody will try to get through? Can you create safe opportunities for those around you to communicate how you can do better?
3) What You Are Doing Isn’t Important. Having critics is a hallmark of making a difference. Nobody that ever made a difference did so without ruffling feathers, or drawing comments. Congratulations- having vocal critics is a sign that you are getting somewhere.
What To Do With Criticism
In my startup life, my team members used to get upset whenever we would get a scathing email from an angry customer- but they quickly learned to be excited about it! With millions of users coming through our website every month, how rare (even with that much traffic) for someone to take the time to write an email and tell us how we failed to meet their expectations. If a customer hates part of their experience, it is a gold-plated, diamond-encrusted gift for them to pause and chew us out – it’s a chance to get better- could we be lucky enough to get more of that? I would pay serious cash to get that kind of attention from customers, so I get excited when that kind of message comes in – “my lucky day!” is the first reaction.
Give and Receive
On the flip-side, for most relationships it can be dangerous to offer criticism to others. Not many people really want it, even though they may need it. It is said that “He has the right to criticize who has the heart to help“, but we all pay a price for offering criticism in most circumstances, so offer it sparingly. It is a special relationship that allows for honest criticism, especially in business.
In processing criticism, it is important to recognize if the person doing the criticizing wants anything that we have: In this (common) case, the origin of criticism is likely petty and not at all meant to help. The type of criticism that really works to our advantage is structured and meant to help us to change our decisions and actions. The ultimate benefit of getting good feedback is when it helps you to structure a change in your behavior. Feedback in any form (be it reports, analysis, criticism, research or anything else) is only useful when it actually helps you to modify what you are doing.
When you can get honest and high quality feedback, take notes: Even when it hurts –especially when it hurts—you know that there is some constructive truth in it. After all, philosophers have told us for centuries that the hardest thing to see is ourselves. Feedback, in its many forms, is the closest thing to an answer to that dilemma.
Your Startup Partner,
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