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Why is business feedback so damn tricky?

February 13, 2015

business feedbackAh business feedback. Take too much in and you can lose your way. Refuse to listen and you can find yourself lost in the very same wilderness. Ask for it then reject it, you can damage your relationships with people. Offer it without being asked and it will come back to haunt you time and time again.

There’s no secret most of us struggle with business feedback, at least time to time.

Let’s take a look at why feedback in a business setting is so damn tricky.

Too much of a good thing

Feedback is free. That’s why you’ll find it on everything from who you work with to what you should do to get the word out. It is easy to be a five minute expert on pretty much anything.

That doesn’t make it right.

We gather feedback on our business usually because we’re in pursuit of something that is customer-centric and gaining insights from others helps fill in the bigger picture. But therein lies the rub. Not all the people we approach for feedback are our customers or have any clue as to our big picture. Their wisdom comes from their experience and that experience doesn’t always match yours.

Collecting feedback from multiple sources is like trying to prepare a meal with your entire spice rack serving as sauce- it simply won’t work.

Instead, carefully select the feedback outlets based on your customer profiles and their experience in business. Then be brave enough to take what you need and leave what you don’t from that advice.

Choose the feedback that adds value, not diminishes, what you are trying to do.

Catharsis versus drama creation

Stress, strain, overwork, underpaid, overtired and always ‘on’- these are the continuous states of people who are engaged and passionate about their work endeavours.

If you care about your work, usually you’ll care quite deeply. That passion and emotion means that when things aren’t going our way, the results can be dramatic. The reaction is strong. And that strong reaction could cloud our business judgement.

That’s when it is easy to mistake catharsis for venting. It becomes hard to spot release in a cloud of drama. Yet, catharsis has a hand in creating more angst and more drama. In fact, rather than releasing anger through venting and sharing, the catharsis hypothesis has been proven false.

Not one but four independent studies have proven “encouraging an expression of anger directly toward another person or indirectly (such as towards an object) actually turns up the heat on the aggression.” (Source: 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology).

Indeed, an expression of anger is only useful if some sort of practical problem solving exercise where the source of the angst is reduced.  The myth of anger releasing through venting persists due to the immediate action providing a feeling of relief of pent up emotions. Yet the problem and the resentment remain.

We may gain validation from sharing these problems and seeking feedback online or in those all important coffee meetings. But unless we address the issue, this form of feedback or sharing of information is next to useless in the medium and long term.

And it can be quite damaging. If you release anger at someone without context, it can and will damage their faith in you as a business person.

Feedback should be a process of seeking resolution rather than momentary reaction.

The intent in eliciting feedback

Go to a friend with your problems, and they will no doubt attempt to offer advice to solve that problem. Why? Because that person probably empathises with you on some level and wishes your situation would improve. If they care about you, they will want to help. In most instances, this is usually providing feedback on your dilemma and some possible solutions.

The same is true of business feedback.

If you’ve established a rapport over time and a person admires you or values you on a business level, their empathy will extend to your particular situation. They will want to help in the most practical way possible- which is to provide feedback on your situation and some potential solutions.

The problem arises when one or both parties are out of synch with the intent of the other. For example, if the person seeking the feedback has a specific framework of response in mind. Or if the person giving the feedback is more interested in offering what they want as opposed to what the person needs.

The moral to the feedback story?

Don’t go seeking genuine, well thought out and caring responses from people if you simply want to be let off the hook, to have someone rubber stamp the feelings you are experiencing or you are chasing an “atta boy!” and/or someone to pat your hand and make you feel better.

It’s not fair on the other person and you will probably be disappointed.

And don’t offer feedback if you can detect this behaviour in the other person, or if you are not truly interested in offering relief.

Feedback is a wonderful, useful tool for business if treated with the proper respect. Use those opportunities wisely.

How you feel about you and me

If you are tired and rundown, feedback may make you paranoid. We lose the ability to judge the relevance of information and the intent of the message the more drained we are.

Confidence also plays a part. Any lack of confidence in your idea or in yourself may amplify the negativity associated with the feedback, regardless of the delivery.

After all, none of us really enjoy hearing that we may be on the wrong track, out to fail or have our worst fears confirmed. This is especially true if we are plagued with doubt.

Cognitive bias can also cause us to over-blow the negativity or misinterpret the nature of the feedback received. Indeed, there are over 100 different forms of cognitive bias that can influence how we react and respond to a particular situation. For example, if you’ve decided that you don’t like someone, good luck breaking through any ingrained prejudice you hold against the person in order to gain the insight you may be seeking.

Whatever the case, it takes a very strong person to put aside their own doubts and their doubts about others and still absorb honest feedback in an open and accepting manner. Your perception will certainly be muddied, if not skewed completely by external circumstance.

This is why empathy may have a place in business, but raw feelings do not. If you want honest feedback, have the fortitude to accept what you receive with grace.

What can you do to improve your feedback obtaining skills?

No business person is an island. We need to bounce ideas, collaborate, sample our audiences and incorporate different opinions and insights into our work.

The trick is choosing the right people, the right moment and the correct mechanisms for deterring or attracting feedback.

Here are some of the ways you can encourage the quality without the quantity in shared information:

  • Have a clear intention set down for the feedback process.
  • Ask qualifying questions and set a framework for gathering the responses that answers questions that match your business needs.
  • Limit your explanation of events and don’t bring the personal into it.
  • If you find yourself talking about the same issue over and over again, stop. Focus on a solution instead.
  • Reframe your thinking to see the positive in feedback. Remembering that feedback may be freely and easily given by some, and come from a genuine place of care in others.
  • Avoid eliciting statement feedback and praise, especially online.
  • Learn to spot the moments where you may be more vulnerable to the negative impact of feedback.
  • Work on your approach so that feedback is a bonus, not a bomb, when it comes to your business ideas.

The bottom line on business feedback

Making the most out of feedback is the key to feeling in a good place about your business while you learn vital information from peers and customers. Just make sure your reasons for seeking feedback are genuine- and that you can accept genuine responses from others as a result.

Want some business feedback you can use to take your work to the next level? Get in touch now!

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