Feedback is necessary for self-awareness

There is much that can be said about self awareness but I want to focus on the importance of feedback. Last year I came across the book “Insight” by Tasha Eurich. I was (and still am)  on a journey of becoming more self aware and I found her book to be insightful (pun intended). In any case, she spoke about the difficulty that leaders faced when it comes to gaining feedback. From my perspective, one of the greatest challenges to first overcome is asking for feedback. There are many people who say “yeah I ask for feedback”, but I think that more often than not, we more bravely ask for feedback when we are confident that it will be good. When we aren’t certain that it will be good or if we are convinced that it will be bad, we absolutely don’t want to hear anyone confirming our worst fears and adding to the self deprecation in our heads. Of course there are exceptions to this and there are a few who are brave and confident enough to hear the “bad”.

The unfortunate thing about not seeking out feedback is that other people tend to see us more objectively than we see ourselves and to not invite their input is to walk around with blindspots. David Funder did some research among undergraduates and compared how they were rated by people who knew them well, those who knew them casually and those those who never met them but had viewed a 5 minute video of them. All three groups ratings were very similarly in the accuracy with which they rated the undergraduate.

However, getting accurate feedback is not always a straightforward process. It’s just as difficult for people to give truthful feedback as it is for us to ask for it. Research by Rosen and Tesser found that people who have uncomfortable information about someone tend not to share it with them. Interestingly, while they are uncomfortable sharing the information with the person, they are quite comfortable sharing it with others. This isn’t just mean spiritedness. From an evolutionary point of view, back in the day, our very survival depended on belonging, therefore our ancestors avoided behaving in a way that would get themselves u ceremoniously removed from the group. This is still very much the situation today, we are very reluctant to share information with someone in the event that that the information causes them to ostracize or reject us. Even scarier, research has shown that people would even go as far as to lie rather than share an unpleasant truth.

Feedback becomes even more complicated when the person on the receiving end is the leader. Honestly, who wants to tell their manager or CEO that they are a control freak or that they sometimes comes across as obnoxious. The costs of sharing that information just seems like too heavy a price. So then,  what can a leader do to gain good feedback? 

One of the suggestions that Tasha Eurich made was to get a “loving critic”. If you thought that a loving critic was someone who has your best interest at heart and is willing to be absolutely honest with you, then you were right. This person may not be your best fired or work husband/wife, they may not be someone you’re close to at all. Instead it may be a colleague  that you have worked with for years but are not necessarily part of our social circle. This person must have the opportunity to see us operate in the areas that want to improve so that they have information on which to provide feedback and they should also know what success in that area would look like for e.g if you want to get feed back on your presentation skills, you’ll want to ask someone who sees you present and is familiar with good presentation skills. Finally this person must be willing to be completely honest with you. How would be able to tell this? If they’ve given you tough feedback before or they have willing to raised hard issues that others tend to shy away from, then it is highly likely that they would be completely honest with you.

Choosing the right person is only the first step to getting good feedback. The next step is to set parameters for the feedback. Just telling someone for e.g. that you want some feedback on how you are at work can be confusing, because it such a wide area. You may get feedback on how you dress, on how you present, on your interactions with clients, when what you really wanted is feedback on how you handle conflict. Tasha Eurich suggested having a hypothesis that you would want to test for e.g.  A performance review, or offhand comment from colleagues might suggest that you become defensive in meetings and when this happens you stop sharing you ideas and viewpoints. Once you’ve identified the areas that you would like to receive feedback (no more than two, so it doesn’t become daunting), share this with your loving critic and ask them if they would be willing to give you honest feedback in these areas. So how do you set this up

  • Have a conversation with the person(s) that you want to be your loving critic(s). You may need more than one critic if no one person sees you in your focus areas.
  • Give them the context of the request. Maybe an offhanded comment or feedback from a performance review suggested this was an area of concern.
  • Share with them that you are trying to better understand how you come across in this area and ask them if they would observe you and let you know fir e.g. when you were being defensive and when you weren’t and any other notable behaviors that they witnessed
  • Give them, the opportunity to think about it and get back to you.
  • Once they agree, set a process and timeframe in which the feedback should happen for e.g. This could be over a three month period with 30 minute meetings once a month, where they share they observations and give specific examples of the behaviours that they observed.
  • Use the feedback to understand how you come across and the types of events that may trigger a particular reaction from you. Then put things in place to work on the area. For e.g. from the feedback you may recognize that you become defensive when you get questions about work that you have produced. Prior to going into meetings you could spend a few moments mentally preparing , reminding yourself that questions will come and that the purpose of the questions is to understand better rather than to make you feel silly. That change in mindset can have a significant impact on how you respond to questions over time.

I recommend “Insight” to anyone seeking to grow in their self awareness. http://a.co/i48Htkb