Insight from the outside (a.k.a. feedback)

Hi there,

Not long ago, I listened to this interview with Jim Dethmer. Short it is not, but it’s well worth your time. That’s true of just about every episode of The Knowledge Project by the way, mostly because host Shane Parrish dives straight in and goes deep, asking interesting, pointed questions of his guest.

Near the end of the podcast (starting at 1:21:54), the topic turns to feedback. Those are the takeaways I’d like to pass on to you today. 

The sooner you find out about your blind spots, the sooner you can remedy them. And the results add up: if you understand your coworkers and clients better this week, you’re more likely to keep them on board next week. In the podcast, Shane and Jim talk about how we can all become “high-speed transformational learners.”

How? By gathering insight from the outside, a.k.a. feedback.

How feedback-rich is your world? 

In the podcast, Jim takes you through how he uncovers our feedback filters. We all have them, and you can find many of yours by completing this sentence: “In order for me to be open to your feedback, I would need you to….” Maybe you set conditions about who “real” feedback comes from (someone with expertise, someone I like). Or perhaps you have requirements for how it’s given (only if it’s framed constructively, only when I’m good and ready to hear it, or even: only if I already agree with it).

The key thing here is becoming aware of the feedback filters you put up. Choose them carefully. Jim also cautions there’s a big difference between getting feedback and agreeing with it. For a truly feedback-rich environment, it’s good to get rid of as many filters as possible. 

Asking for feedback

Actively go in search of new insight. It’s the way to do better fast. Want a feedback-rich environment? Make sure people know they don’t have to worry about making their feedback constructive or concrete. You just want to hear it. Jim suggests you get folks to give you a score from 1 to 10 on the presentation you just gave, for instance. Any number less than a 10, ask for one thing you could do better. 

That question, I’ve found, is critical. Get used to asking What can be better? instead of something like How’d you like it? The latter will generally get you compliments. That’s always nice, but it’s not what you’re after here. You’ll undoubtedly have other moments at work when you can hear all about how you did.

Want to grow superfast? Ask for feedback far more often. 

Jim doesn’t let you off the hook in your personal life either. He encourages you to ask your partner, friends, and family what you could do better. The insight you gain can make wonderful source material for your own yearly review. 

What does the feedback tell me?

Though we all know nobody’s perfect, I don’t know anyone who truly enjoys hearing about what they’re not doing well. And yet those are the things we most need to hear in order to learn, and to learn faster. 

Criticism can be hard to take, so it’s only natural to wonder whether the feedback is true. Instead of taking a good hard look at yourself, it’s often easier to point to others: Ok, but he doesn’t see all the things I am doing, or That’s a ridiculous thing to say, she doesn’t ever do that either! Resist having that kind of response. As Jim says, “What are you going to learn from that?” Not a whole lot. 

He suggests a different tack: Go grab a cup of coffee by yourself, and sit with the feedback for a while. Take the time to look at how it’s true about you.

This was an invaluable insight for me: the fastest learners don’t get bogged down by the question Is this true? or Am I really like that? They go straight to the question What does this tell me? (In the podcast, Jim calls this: “How is the feedback about me true about me?”)

See feedback as a starting point to push further. First of all on your own. But if you want faster gains, take the feedback and run it by 3 other people you know. Skip the “What do you think about this?” angle. That tends to give you more info about the person you’re asking.

Use the fresh question: “How is this true about me?” with the emphasis on how it’s true, not whether it’s true. A good follow-up question to try is “What do you think my takeaway should be from this feedback?”

Every form of feedback is a projection. In short: You spot it, you got it. The same is true for interpreting feedback. Jim’s advice about your own projections is clear-cut: 

Eat your projections. Which means: anything you’re complaining about out there, take it in and see how it’s true about you…. When people do that, their whole life changes.  

It’s a great reminder for you and me to take a look at our own feedback filters and make a point of asking for the feedback we need to grow. 

Have a good week,