On seeking feedback

We often give and receive useless feedback at work in the name of ‘constructive’ feedback. Feedback is valuable only when you are willing to put your time and energy into fixing it. Otherwise, it’s just armchair criticism.

We must be able to differentiate between the near-constant feedback giver, ‘The Coach‘ and the generous skeptic, who is capable of seeing something we’re not seeing. The latter one is worth seeking out.

‘The Coach’ is the person who is giving near-constant feedback about work, to the point that they become annoying, and eventually irrelevant because no one listens to them. Their words lose all sense of urgency because everything is urgent all the time. They adopt the position of offering feedback about everything to everyone, whether or not it’s needed. Worse, it’s impossible to actually implement all of the advice because it never stops.

The generous skeptic has insight into your field, your strengths, and weaknesses. She wants you to succeed, but maybe, just maybe, sees something you don’t.

When the generous skeptic speaks up, she’s taking a risk. If you respond to her generosity by arguing, by shutting down, by avoiding eye contact or becoming defensive, you’ve blown it. You’ve taken a gift and wasted it, and disrespected the gift giver at the same time.

The alternative is to emotionally stand up and sit down on her side of the table. Egg her on. Imagine the world the way she sees it. Take her tactical skepticism and amplify it, pushing it to its logical conclusion. Instead of defending the flickering flame of your idea as if it might soon be extinguished, dump as much of this sort of skepticism on the idea as you can.

Not only are you honoring the generous skeptic when you do this, you’re learning how to see the way she sees. Your job isn’t to persuade her she’s wrong, your job is to learn from this and buttress your project in a way that when it collides with the market, you’re ready.

“Tell me more about that,” is the useful and productive response, not, “no, you’re wrong, you don’t understand.”

There’s always time to ignore this feedback later. Right now, dive into it, with an eager, open mind. It’s a gift you’re not often offered.

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