Everyone says they want feedback on their ideas – but this isn’t entirely true. Even for the business critical issues

Everyone says they want feedback on their ideas – but this isn’t entirely true. Even for the business critical issues

18 Mar    Advice, Columns, Finance News

Let’s face it – receiving feedback can be uncomfortable.

Even the most well-meaning and gently delivered constructive criticism can feel like a complete shock to the system, and most people do not take feedback as well as they’d perhaps like. This can be problematic enough when it comes to employee experience of performance reviews, but when it’s your own business you’re receiving feedback on, it can feel much more personal. And far more emotive.

This is an unfortunate reality, as feedback – even difficult to swallow feedback – is key to improving our ideas and ultimately, our business.

The fear of feedback

The reason for fearing feedback is rather simple – it just doesn’t feel good to be criticised.

Our brains are hardwired to perceive feedback as inherently threatening. This might be because it’s a blow to our egos, has the potential to undermine others’ perceptions of us, or is simply a bit embarrassing. Especially as a business owner, it can be incredibly difficult to hear the idea that you’ve worked hard on and become personally invested in is, well, bad.

Given how uncomfortable feedback can be to hear and act upon, the natural response to perceived criticism is often less-than-ideal. In many ways, these responses align with what’s known as the stages of grief. Denial, for example, is one of the most common, albeit unconscious, responses, where it is much easier to simply ignore or dismiss feedback than face an uncomfortable reality. How easy is it to say to ourselves “they don’t know what they’re taking about”.

Similarly, a recipient may respond with a feeling of helpless dejection, brooding and ruminating over negative feedback, whilst sadly doing little to address the problem. Or perhaps they will procrastinate, where it becomes easier to put off and delay the issues making us feel uncomfortable rather than face them head-on with action and course-correction.

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Accountability as a business owner

Despite the innate discomfort that feedback evokes in us, perhaps one of the biggest shifts in receiving feedback as a business owner (compared to being an employee) is the dramatic change in accountability, and its impact on the bottom line.

As a business owner, it’s natural to become personally invested in your ideas. In fact, this is something to be encouraged, as that personal investment is often the driving force behind taking your business to bigger and better heights. However, despite your personal engagement, the distinction between a good or bad idea could now be the difference between making or losing money. It really matters.

While feedback can still feel like a slap in the face, that feedback is a necessary function of ensuring your money is being funnelled into the best possible ideas that translate directly into your profit and cash. Feedback then, should be welcomed and treated as objectively as you can.

The challenges of soliciting feedback

Many of the difficulties in receiving feedback are also present in giving it. It can be just as uncomfortable giving constructive criticism as it can be taking it. People are wary of getting it wrong and that hinders the quality of their input.

The issue for a lot of business owners, especially owners of smaller businesses, is where can you find the kind of valuable feedback you need to prevent yourself pouring time and resources into a terrible idea?

While asking for feedback from within your organisation is valuable – and certainly one good way for bosses to remain accountable to employees and foster an environment of open communication – the inherent power imbalance present in this dynamic often makes it difficult to obtain candid feedback. Confidentiality helps. But is it really trusted?

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Compounding this, people are fundamentally social creatures. We thrive on building positive relationships with each other, both personal and professional, and don’t want to be perceived as being mean or unkind when we do deliver feedback.

This isn’t simply because employees don’t want to upset their boss – though this may indeed play a role – it’s because employees can be just as unconsciously biased as the owner of the business. It can be incredibly difficult to gain objective perspective on your own day-to-day work, and this is no different for employees, who will often experience a confirmation bias when it comes to the activities and ideas they have a role in. This is why opening yourself to external perspectives and the feedback they can provide is so crucial.

External feedback, then, is vital. But be wary about this too. Consultants can be great but in the end they want to stay in the relationship and sell you more work. That may hinder true honesty.

Coaches and mentors are meant to be objective, but they too need to stay in a good relationship and that might make them wary about too much honesty. If you have such a person (and it’s a great idea to get one), when was the last time they told you something that made you feel genuinely uncomfortable. They should. But do they?

Peer group share sessions can be very powerful, as attendees are not beholden to one another. In theory. But we still must listen carefully to hear behind normal good manners and unwillingness to upset each other. You may have to ask pointed questions, often prefacing them with some variation of “please don’t worry about upsetting me, I need to know what you really think”.

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Final thoughts

The ability to solicit and positively act upon valuable feedback isn’t just good for you as an individual, it’s good for your business. Doing it has profit-driven benefits.

As hard as it may be, overcoming those natural but unhelpful responses to feedback or perceived criticism allows you to improve your decisions, improving both performance and results.

Ultimately, when it’s your own money and the success of your business on the line, there is no room to be precious about feedback. Seek it out.  Take it on the chin. Use it to your advantage.

Roger Jackson

Roger Jackson

A marketing enthusiast and natural entrepreneur, Roger has enjoyed an illustrious career in sales and marketing for major brands including Unilever, Kraft Foods and United Biscuits. Having established his own independent peer-to-peer marketing platform, SenseCheck, Roger uses his unique insight and years of marketing experience to support SMEs in making the most of their marketing budgets.

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