Accepting feedback is an art. And below is the incident that inspired me to write this article.
It was March 2005:
A fellow radio jockey and I was in the studio of All India Radio’s FM Gold channel (on Parliament Street, Delhi).
She was presenting a live radio show and I was there to collect material for my show due later that week.
As soon as she finished, I shared my observation—my feedback about the way she spoke the title of a music album. (It was kind of “broken” – two words, then a pause, and then the third word.)
I remarked, “I think you should work on your flow: You know, the way you join words, the way you flow one word into the next one!? That way you would sound much better On AIR.”
She took my feedback positively (or so I thought).
Fast forward 3 days, I met her again in the same studio and she asked me, “Hey, I had a show last evening. Did you hear that?”
“Ahem, no, I didn’t.”
“Oh really? So you don’t listen to my shows when I do a show worth listening but you DO listen to them when I make mistakes, huh?” Her eyes were red and her tone was bitter.
“Well, I didn’t mean to offend you. I was just sharing my observation with you, that’s all. I won’t trouble you again if you don’t like it.”
After that episode, I never told her how good or bad her shows were.
What’s the point of giving feedback when it’s not taken in good spirits, right?
Now, look at me: Here I am, finding fault with a fellow RJ while I also used to be like her until recently. I used to think that I had what it takes and that I needed no goddamn body to tell me how to do my stuff (except the people I chose). And boy, was I wrong.
But then I learned that the more I accepted feedback and even criticism with understanding and respect, the better my work as a radio jockey and voice artist became.
We can speed up our progress and become better at whatever we do if we only learn how to receive and handle feedback with grace. And it’s a given that very few of us are good at doing so.
But the good news is, the art of accepting feedback with ease can be learned.
Now, before we learn how to accept feedback, it’s important to understand what’s so special about feedback and why it’s important.
Why Feedback is Important?
Because feedback helps human beings grow.
It goes something like this:
We do something, ask others how we’re doing and if we don’t like what we hear, we change our course of action which in turn improves us (hopefully) and makes us a better version of ourselves.
Let’s say you keep doing what you’re doing without asking others for suggestions and feedback, how far do you think you’d go in your chosen field?
You see, skills need time to develop. Any skill. In fact, skills don’t grow overnight, they take time to evolve. And that’s where feedback comes in.
Now, it’s true that hard work is essential to get successful but hard work alone won’t cut it. You also need somebody to tell you if you’re on the right track. Otherwise, you shall be groping in the dark just like that group of five intoxicated friends who went boat riding on a full moon night, kept rowing and rowing and rowing until the morning, and assumed that they must’ve reached some far away shore by then. Only to find out that they forgot to remove the anchor last night.
Didn’t they work hard?
They sure did but it didn’t pay off because they had nobody to give them feedback about how they were doing. Now, I am sure you don’t want such a silly thing to happen to you.
That’s why it’s VERY important to seek feedback, so you can correct your course of action (in time).
But to accept feedback positively, you need to be willing to feel awkward and uneasy.
Embrace that “Uneasy” Feeling
It’s natural to feel uneasy and a bit uncomfortable while receiving feedback because let’s face it: most of us (okay, all of us) like to think that we’re good at what we do and we hope that we’re on the right track. And so, when somebody hints that we’re not performing the way we could have, it’s only natural to feel uncomfortable.
You see, we like to hold ourselves in high esteem and when somebody challenges it, we get uncomfortable. And that’s all right. It’s part of the game.
So, what to do? Well, embrace the uncomfortable feelings that you might have regarding the feedback, and move on. Accept that you’re uncomfortable listening to something “negative” about you because that is for your own good.
Okay, let’s take a moment here. Tell me, how would you feel if I told you that you’re great? You’ll feel good, right? And you will have no problem accepting the praise or the appreciation because that only feels natural.
Likewise, when somebody gives you feedback or criticizes your work, it’s only natural to feel offended (at least a bit) and that’s alright, too. That’s how you grow personally (and professionally)—by being understanding of the other person’s point of view.
So, be prepared for a little uneasiness and that “butterflies in the stomach” feeling.
Think of the Person Offering You Feedback as a Well-wisher
Nobody drags a person walking on the street and starts giving feedback about how they should dress up, or how they should walk or behave. I mean, when was the last time you did it?
Probably never, right?
Because we give feedback to only those people whom we mean well. (And the moment we realize that the person on the receiving end is not accepting our feedback gracefully, we move two steps backward like I did).
So, when somebody offers you a suggestion or feedback—maybe a coworker, your spouse, or your teacher, or your coach, take it as a good sign. It means you’re on the right track and the person offering feedback feels you could do better. That’s all there’s to it.
The only people we don’t give feedback to are our enemies. Haven’t you heard, “When your enemy is making a mistake, don’t interrupt him?”
Remember: the person offering your feedback is your well-wisher because the worst feedback is NO feedback at all.
See Accepting Feedback as an Opportunity to Improve Your Work
The truth is: that feedback is a free tool (if only you give it a chance) to improve whatever it is that you’re doing.
When you have a goal in mind and you try your best to move closer to it, mistakes are bound to happen. And when someone draws your attention toward them, then instead of being offended, see it as a golden opportunity to hone your skills and perfect your craft.
Let me give you my example.
During my training days as a radio jockey on the FM Gold channel, I made it a point to ask for feedback from my mentor (our Programme Executive) Mr. Vijay Deepak Chhibber. And he kept guiding me in the right direction.
But I was impatient to learn as fast as I could and as much as I could. So I kept bugging him almost every day. It became so hard on him that one day he almost dragged me to another studio and said, “Avdhesh, you’re on the right track. Keep doing what you’re doing. If you’ll go astray, I’ll let you know. And now please stop eating my brains, will you!?”
Ah! The joys of asking for feedback. 😉
When It Comes to Accept Feedback, Take What You Need and LEAVE the Rest
It’s not necessary to take the feedback in its entirety. True, the person offering feedback or criticism is doing so out of generosity. But that doesn’t mean you are under any obligation to act on all the “improvements.”
Just take what you need.
Consider receiving feedback as an opportunity to pick some of your favorite candies from a jar. Don’t be greedy, don’t take all of them (or at least don’t take all of them AT ONCE).
Pick what you need to work on at that moment, thank the person, and leave the rest.
Every Feedback is Not What It Seems
What if somebody tries to put you down with the so-called “feedback?”
What should you do in such a situation?
Sure, some people are simply jealous of you, and they will criticize you no matter what you do. But that doesn’t mean you need to pay attention to them. Heck, don’t even argue with them because doing so will give them more power.
Just leave them. Ignore them. Just fuhgeddaboudit.
And remember: Keep asking for feedback.
If you want to stay on top of your game, then it’s your job to ask for suggestions and feedback. Even criticism.
Don’t expect people to tell you how you are doing because they might be afraid of hurting your feelings (even though they know that you could do better).
Only rarely will somebody take the risk to offer unsolicited feedback (like I did. And it backfired, remember?)
Keep asking because nobody will give you any feedback unless you ask for it.