The Wide Wonderful World of Feedback

How increased awareness improves business performance

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 11, Issue No. 4
July, 2012

By Dan Coughlin



You can’t see yourself perform, and I can’t see myself perform.

That is at the heart of why receiving feedback and considering what it tells us is critically important to improving our individual performances. Every business comes down to interactions with other people. Those other people include customers, prospects, suppliers, investors, employees, peers, bosses, advisors, and partners. Interactions might be face-to-face or via the phone, email, text, Skype, or long handwritten letters. Your interactions with customers might happen indirectly through your employees at a retail store or on-site at a construction project or on the phone at a call center.

The only way we can understand how well we interact with other people is to gain feedback and consider what it says. Therefore, I encourage you to cherish feedback. Be thankful for it, and let people know you appreciate their feedback. You don’t have to agree with any of the feedback, but I do believe you need to consider all of it as you think about your future behaviors and decisions.

Forms of Feedback


There are 360-Degree Evaluations and Customer Satisfaction Surveys and Suggestion Boxes. These are all ways that people can give you feedback in a scenario where they remain anonymous. Some people really hate these things because the other person can say what they want, but my experience has been that people take the time to think through their responses before they give them in a formal process. They may say things you don’t want to hear, but it’s being given to you in private and they are probably things you need to hear. There are also mid-year and end-of-the-year evaluations you receive from your boss. This is direct feedback. Consider it all to be as potentially valuable as winning the lottery.


Your boss, peer, friend, customer, supplier, or spouse is engaged in a friendly conversation with you. In the midst of the conversation, the person says something about you that you had never thought of before. The person wasn’t being mean or condescending, just honest in a relaxed format. 25 years ago a great friend of mine said, “Dan, your greatest strength is your impatience and your greatest weakness is your impatience.” That caused me to think about my behaviors. A few weeks ago I was told that I give feedback too quickly in an Executive Coaching relationship. I had never thought about that before. I always wait until the night of the coaching session and then I type up my thoughts and send them to the person. But then I learned that sometimes the other person needs more time to process the day’s activities before I send my thoughts. This type of informal feedback can come to you at any moment.


Self-reflection is one of the best ways you can give yourself feedback. You may not be able to see yourself perform, but you can see the looks on other people’s faces and gain a certain degree of information on how they are perceiving you. At the end of the day, take some quiet time to reflect on your performance as determined by the way other people respond to you.


It’s okay to ask people for feedback. At the end of a meeting, I think it’s healthy to go around and ask, “What made this meeting effective for you, what made it not effective for you, and what would have made it more effective for you?” I think if you do that a couple of times each quarter, or least once a quarter, that you will have a better understanding of what is working for the other members of the group.


Unsolicited feedback, particularly of the negative variety and even more particularly if it’s given to you in public, can be damaging. For example, you’re sitting in a meeting room and your peer goes off the agenda to say, “That situation last week was handled really poorly, and I need you guys to think before you act the next time.” Be prepared to respond. I’m partial to something like this, “This is not the time or the place for you to say that. If you want to discuss that situation, I’ll be glad to set up a time with you to talk about it, but drive-by shootings are not the most effective way to improve results.” The feedback may still turn out to be valuable, but it needs a proper context.

Studying What Others Say

I am a bit of a readeraholic. I really like to read about how other people explain an idea or handle a situation. I then compare their thoughts and approaches to mine, and I constantly evaluate whether or not I can say something or do something in a more effective manner. Seems to me that if a person never studies what other people think then they will always be stuck thinking the way they did when they entered the workforce.

Don’t Gloss Over the Positives

The single most common mistake in receiving feedback is dismissing the positive comments. If a person received eight pieces of positive feedback and two pieces of negative feedback, he or she will invariably skip over the positives and focus on the negatives. That is a big mistake.

Anytime you get a positive comment about your behaviors or decisions carefully consider how that behavior or decision can be applied again in an effective way in the future. It’s never as easy as doing the exact same thing twice and expecting the exact same result in the future. But if you consider your strengths as perceived by other people you may be able to find ways to leverage those strengths again and again. If you dismiss your strengths, you may be missing out on the most important factor you have for improving results in the future.

Don’t Be Paralyzed By Criticism

Criticism is not poisonous. It won’t kill you. It’s just people letting you know how they think you can perform better. Sometimes people aren’t very tactful in the way they phrase their criticisms, but that’s okay as well. Just consider the criticism and see if there are any nuggets of wisdom in there that you can incorporate into your behaviors. There may not be. The main thing to avoid is to stop performing just because you were criticized. Criticism comes with the territory of being alive. No matter what you do or don’t do someone will criticize you. That’s okay. Keep performing.

Willingness to Learn, Not Defend

The performers who always get better are the ones who learn from feedback. The ones who never improve are the ones who receive feedback and then go into defensive mode. They lift a shield like Captain America to deflect any negative feedback they receive. Oftentimes they attack the messenger by saying things like, “I know who said that, and that person has always criticized me. He can’t let it go. I’ve changed, but he won’t forgive me for what happened and move forward.” These poor performers don’t even consider the possibility that the feedback is still relevant for the current situation. Another way they deflect negative feedback is by immediately criticizing the messenger for his or her behaviors. This defense mechanism is counterproductive in terms of improving your performance. You’re taking the emphasis off of learning and you’re placing it on attacking the other person.

Rather than defending yourself, ask yourself if there is an insight in the feedback that you can learn from and apply. That is the key to continually getting better.

Openness to Changing Behaviors

Before you receive any feedback, see if you are really open to changing your behaviors. Are you really willing to give up an approach that you have used for twenty years, or are you dedicated to keeping an approach just because you’ve always done it that way. If you are not open to changing your behaviors, then there is no point in receiving feedback. You can’t go back and change a past action. It’s in the past. The only things you can change are your future actions. If you are open to changing your behaviors in the future, then feedback becomes remarkably useful and valuable. The value of feedback is determined by your openness to changing behaviors.

Show Appreciation for the Feedback

Saying thank you for positive feedback is important. Practice saying, “Thank you for those kind words. I appreciate it.” If you don’t show appreciation for positive feedback, then you will stop getting it and then you might wonder why no one gives you any compliments. When people stop giving you positive feedback, you may not realize what you do that is effective for them.

Saying thank you for negative feedback is even more important because you need negative feedback in order to improve. If you make it clear that you don’t ever want negative feedback, then you just might get what you wish for. It would be a horrible thing to wander around thinking you’re doing a great job when in fact people are very frustrated with you. You would be living in a business la-la land. Take a few days to recover from the negative feedback and then say, “Thank you for taking the time to give me this feedback. I appreciate it.”

Feedback is crucially important for improving business performance. Welcome it, consider it, apply it when it’s appropriate, and show appreciation for it.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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