Embrace Criticism By Asking For Feedback

by Marc Winitz

This is Part Two of a series on the martial arts principle of giving criticism.

In my last post I talked about the value of leveraging a feedback mechanism for personal development, relating the use of the criticism process commonly used in martial arts training. As I stated previously there is simply no better way to make improvement over time whether it be for personal, professional or other developmental growth than to have others you trust provide feedback on what you do well, what needs improvement, and most importantly how you do things currently.

In the martial arts context of physical and mental training this process is ongoing and you are constantly receiving “trusted” feedback. I say “trusted” because the party offering feedback (giving criticism) is doing so solely for the purpose of helping you improve. You “trust” some people on a personal level more others (a spouse or very close friend, for example). However they may not necessarily be the best resource to seek personal or professional feedback due to their existing relationship with you. That said, colleagues, acquaintances and friends can all be good sources of feedback to help you in personal or professional development and they would be a parallel substitute for the belts one trains with in a martial arts dojo.

Criticism Personified – It’s Your Ego
This post is aimed at how to solicit criticism or feedback because I am suggesting that you actively go out and seek it. That means your “trusted” feedback providers won’t necessarily understand where you are coming from our why. Your goal is not to try and get them to understand the process, just to get the feedback from them. However by doing this you are opening yourself up to their commentary about you. The challenge here is how to take that feedback and ensure you really hear what is being said, and then be able to turn it into something actionable you can work on. This approach speaks directly to the concept of Sharing Knowledge, one of the 6 Elements Black Belts train for. In this case you are asking others to share their perception and thoughts about you.

In the karate setting, none of that matters, and this generated some conversation offline from my last blog post. A trusted source to me indicated that criticism is always “personal”. While that is very true on one level, over time in a martial arts setting you come to realize that whether or not it is doesn’t really matter because the feedback (if offered correctly) you are getting transcends your ego. And ultimately this is one of the major benefits of a feedback process – how you deal with others providing you criticism is the essence of personal or professional growth and development – In a word, the process helps you come to grips with your own “ego”. Whatever the feedback is “e.g. you not that good with people in a face to face environment” is actually less important than how you contend with whatever feelings that generates for you internally. That part is very personal. So there are two very important tracks here:

1)      How it makes you feel (and how to come to grips with your own ego), and

2)      What to do with feedback you have received

Over time you begin to see how on a personal level your ego doesn’t really matter. Unless a comment is something extreme e.g. “you are not a good person because you don’t treat others well” you should be able to focus more on the actual comment and how to use it to improve and less on how the comment makes you feel personally.

In a martial arts setting it is never the intent to make someone feel good or bad about anything, the process is simply used to provide a snapshot in time of how you are doing and what you may improve on. In the next post, I’ll discuss the process and implications of dealing with comments and how they affect our ego, as another form of significant personal development occurs through this aspect of the process.

A Framework for Soliciting Criticism and Using It
I’ll tell you that I love feedback, good or bad. I really don’t mind if people tell me what I am doing right or wrong because I make my fair share of mistakes.  I’d like to suggest a methodology you can use to implement the same martial arts principle on a personal or professional development level. I personally use the process I am describing below frequently and directly and it all comes from a martial arts environment:

  1. Pick an Area – It’s easier to learn the process by focusing either on a personal or professional area initially. Overtime you can mix it up but pick one area to start, simply to learn the process;
  2. Identify “trust agents” – A little play on words here from the best selling book by social media guru Chris Brogan. What I mean here is to identify 5-10 people on a personal and professional level that you can approach to solicit feedback from. They should people that know you well but are not your best friend, spouse or boss (to trusted and you don’t want to put them in a position of feeling awkward, and they won’t tell you the complete truth anyway).
  3. Provide Education About Why You Are Asking – You will need to explain to the “trust agent” what you are doing and what you are asking of them. The first approach is really to solicit general feedback and impressions to help you categorize areas you are probably unaware of that you may want to focus on or improve over time. You can certainly approach someone and tell them you are trying to focus in a specific area but that actually doesn’t accomplish as much based on what I am trying to get at here. On a professional level I would approach someone as follows “I am really working to improve my performance as an executive/teacher/work (insert profession) here and I’ve decided to ask people that I know fairly well on a professional level to provide me some feedback. I think highly of you and it is why I am approaching you. Would you be willing to give some feedback on myself in a professional context?” (They will usually say yes and you are looking for a 10 minute conversation).
  4. Categorize to Create an Inventory – After you have agreement with your trust agent you will need to guide the conversation so they can provide meaningful feedback. You can start by saying something like “I think I am good at something’s but not strong in other areas and I am hoping you can provide some additional insight for me. In your opinion what do you think I am good at and why? People skills, follow-up skills, commitment and follow through, helping others, etc…” Give them a few items to think about but tell them those are just examples and if something else sticks out in their mind you want to know what that is. After this exchange you will ask for the other side “Can you tell me in your opinion areas you think I need improvement in or don’t do well and why you think that?” I’ll tell you right now that this is not easy and the majority of people don’t do this, but this is the real personal development learning.
  5. Evaluate and Prioritize – After you have gone through steps 3 and 4 a few times and have written the feedback down you now have a personal inventory of areas to look more closely at and work with. I wouldn’t suggest “working on them” right away. You need to sit with them, internalize the feedback, deal with any personal emotion (ego) from what you heard, etc…But at least you will have an alternate viewpoint of how others perceive you and your strengths and weaknesses.
  • You want to look for similarities and differences to help you rule in or out what how important the feedback is and whether or not you should work on it.
  • There is a personal element here as you may here things you weren’t expecting and we have a tendency to shy away from that. But don’t. That’s the real personal development happening.
  • After this evaluation process you can then decide for yourself what you want to pursue and how to pursue it.

Example Feedback
Some examples of feedback you may get can include statements like:

  • You don’t always follow through on what you say you will do;
  • People seem at ease talking to you;
  • You give up to easily;
  • You are fair with others;
  • Sometimes you can’t see another point view or dismiss others views to quickly;
  • You always have to be right;
  • You are willing to listen to both sides of an argument;

These are simply examples and each statement has implications (personally or professionally) for you. I am not trying to solve what to do with the information you receive. This is just a mechanism to solicit feedback about you.

You are in the “Digital Dojo”
This process is what essentially happens on a daily basis in a karate dojo although you get the feedback whether you want it or not (a key difference). The other difference here is that I am not suggesting you go back regularly for this type of feedback on a developmental level, only do this occasionally. The real purpose in doing it is to get alternate points of view about who you are, how you are doing and where you can improve. It is very hard to see that on a personal level because we can’t easily look at ourselves. That’s why the process is so effective in a martial arts setting. You can’t see yourself perform but others can.

What are your thoughts on seeking feedback about yourself? Do you do this now? If so what process do you use?

Thanks for training with me.

Photo credit courtesy of Victor Bezrukov

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