It’s that moment after you hear someone you share a professional relationship with talk about a list of things they like about you before adding a ‘but’ or an ‘and’ and going on to describe something about you they feel you need to change.
When you are on the side of the giver, it feels like you are doing the right thing. And as a receiver, you tend to have that bad feeling in your stomach.
How do I know? Been on both sides, more times than I can count.
Over the past year, I’ve come to the realization that giving feedback is just wrong. I’ve done it many times and I realize it’s something I need to stop. It’s a risk I should never take.
There’s a simple rationale to this. Your greatest strength moonlights as your greatest weakness. Always. And it’s natural. If you are an eagle, it’s normal that you can’t swim. But, feedback makes it sound like a bad thing instead of focusing on the fact that you are the best flyer around and if you did need anything to do with the water, you should just make friends with a fish!
Every person who accomplishes something understands this. Look at Steve Jobs in his early days at Apple and Next, and then in his second act. The big difference is that he surrounded himself with people like Johnny Ives, Tim Cook and John Lasseter who knew how to manage him, and whose skills were entirely complimentary. Luckily, for Jobs, he was born with a certain brashness (that worked counter productive as well) that had him ignore people who told him to stop being temperamental, the source of his creative genius.
My point here is that, for every Jobs, there a million others who are being given ‘constructive feedback’ and who never recover. It’s in our nature to focus on the negative and we will likely walk away from feedback sessions only remembering the criticisms. And that’s the end of the story.
So, here’s my suggested approach –
1. Don’t bother with feedback. There are, no doubt, a few relationships where the relationships that can take the feedback. Very few who will be able to laugh it off if they don’t like it. And I trust you’ll know which if you asked yourself that question.
2. Focus instead of finding people’s strengths. Focus like an insane person on what people are doing right, and how people can do more of that.
3. When you have difficulty working with people because of clashes of point of view or approach, focus on how you can leverage their strengths, and yours, to make the relationship positive. Staying out of the way could be a potential solution. ‘Constructive‘ criticism is not.
Here’s why. ‘Constructive‘ criticism tends to be constructive only in the mind of the giver. There are few people who are thick skinned enough to shrug it off. For the most part though, it is never constructive. It destroys much more in the long run.
Tony Buzan, author of Creative Intelligence, has an interesting theory. He says everyone is born with creativity in the arts, music, dance and in writing. However, we walk out of childhood at most with one or two of those talents. And he reasons it’s because we likely got laughed at or told in nice ways ‘we suck’ in the rest.
Conventional thinking gets this wrong. I’m convinced of that. Oh, and don’t worry about people never being told what they do wrong. The world will do that. For every 1 person who tells them they did well, there are a thousand that will laugh at them. It’s the easy thing to do.
Stop pointing out the things that the Eagle cannot do. Start figuring out how the Eagle can fly higher.
To do that, we will have to really understand the eagle and what it does right.
Telling an eagle to clip it’s wings because they are a nuisance to you is easy. The natural consequence, of course, is that it will never fly.
It requires serious thinking and effort to truly build people. It’s sometimes so tough that it hardly feels worth it.
Except when it is.