Feedback: your secret weapon for self-improvement

Imagine a life where you never feel like a failure and always manage to follow your dreams.

Katherine Baker, Congress co-founder and coach tell us how

by: Caroline Weller

What if I said your success is dependent on your ability to accept, love and even crave feedback?

Feedback may not feel like a positive part of your life at the moment. Consider how you feel before your annual review: what happens at the end of a project when it’s time for a debrief? Or when your boss sends you an email with the subject line ‘my thoughts’...? Apprehensive, emotional and vulnerable are some of the ways people say they feel before a feedback meeting. The crazy thing is, if you go into a feedback meeting feeling defensive and scared, you’ll miss the point.

We live in a culture where we don’t value constructive criticism. There is no thumbs down on Facebook, and it’s all positive comments and likes on instagram unless you are being trolled. Similarly in business, we operate on a ‘no news is good news’ basis. The only feedback we tend to receive is positive. With no way of accessing honest feedback, we reduce our ability to discover more about ourselves.

Feedback is actually a gift

The definition of a gift is something given freely without payment. To me feedback is exactly that. It helps you figure out who you are - what you need to improve on and what people think of you. All great leaders seek feedback. Winston Churchill even set up a team specifically to give him negative feedback. He had team members tell him where he was going wrong and allowed them to shine a light on the negative side of his decisions.

Actively soliciting feedback is another step on the road to a much larger goal - self-actualisation. Self-actualising is about the fulfilment of your potential and the realisation of your dreams: in short, becoming who you need to become. You can only do this by finding things out you don’t already know about yourself and being open to criticism - it doesn’t have to be a negative, bad thing.

The unknown is your untapped potential and the truly scary thing is may people don’t engage with it. So many people have unrealised potential that could be unlocked by asking for feedback.

Change your opinion on feedback

It’s all in your mindset and the idea that more is better. In life we’re generally told less is more but this isn’t the rule for feedback. The more you get, the easier it becomes to receive. Lesson 1 is to get out there and actively ask for it!

My second best piece of advice for opening yourself up to feedback is adopting a growth mindset.  Dr Carol S Dwerk wrote an incredible book on this topic all about how when you embrace feedback, you can literally never fail. In her book there is the concept of ‘growth mindset’ and ‘fixed mindset’.

The fixed mindset is characterised by born traits - ie the notion that you are born with the skills and strengths you have, and your goal is to build on them. In the fixed mindset, you can’t really change. For example, our parents might have told us the things we were good at as a child, and we keep doing those things as an adult because they come to us easily. As a result, when we try something new, we give up quicker. We assume that when something is not a born trait, it’s not for us and if we receive negative feedback we understand it as criticism and a sign that we’re not good enough.

In the growth mindset, we keep going. We keep trying the thing we want to be good at or achieve until we finally get there. We can’t fail because we know everything can be learned and you can be anything you want to be. With a growth mindset, you embrace challenges, negative opinions and feedback. You understand effort is the path to success. You find lessons and inspiration in other people.

Making it work for you

If you can see feedback as part of success, instead of the opposite of it, you will begin to crave it and relish the opportunities feedback presents for you to learn and grow.

With a growth mindset and an appetite for feedback, episodes in our life that we previously viewed as failures, become part of our success story. Exceptional individuals have a special talent for identifying their own strengths and weaknesses. This means embracing feedback so you can build on your strengths and minimise your weaknesses.

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