How to get real, honest feedback

Americans are terrified to be honest with each other.
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We all need feedback to grow. But how do you actually get it? Today:

  • My easy feedback system (that you can easily copy!)

Let’s get into it!

Why you need a feedback system

I’ve been working on my Spanish for nearly two years now, so I’ve hung out with lots of Mexicans.

By American standards, their humor is brutal. 

One friend, for example, calls me poco gordito (little fatty) all the time in Spanish. It’s not meant as demeaning. In fact, it’s the opposite. He messes with me as part of our friendship.

It made me realize how quickly offended we are in America now.

And, since I have a business brain, I thought about how this affects business:

Our hypersensitivity means we’re starved for feedback.

Many people are terrified to give even tiny bits of real talk. We’re (rightly) terrified someone will get offended, and all hell will break loose.

But honest feedback is essential for growth, whether it’s personal or professional.

My solution

Crazy as it seems, I had to build a whole system for 360-degree performance feedback about myself.

Having a structure like this reassures people that I do, in fact, want to know their real thoughts. 

Otherwise, I never get a real opinion.

So here’s how it works. If it seems over the top, blame America.

Part 1: Data Gathering

Every year, I ask my business coach Tom Cuthbert to do a 360 review on me.

He interviews the 6 to 8 people I work with most closely and anonymizes that into a report. It’s a mix of partners, employees, vendors, and others.

Then we have a 45-minute meeting where he gives me takeaways.

I learn the good stuff I need to reinforce, as well as the bad stuff that I need to work on. 

This is how I learn the “unknown unknowns” about myself — and uncovering those blind spots is a rare gift into how I can improve.

By adding structure — and having people deliver this feedback to someone else, instead of me — I hear things that people otherwise wouldn’t say to my face. I get lots of information, but here’s a small excerpt:

Note: this is from 2023 — I’ve since solved all of these and become 100% perfect

How to do this:

Tom does a great job running these interviews for me. But there’s also pretty simple software options, like Leapsome (not a sponsor, we actually used them). 

Or, you can partner with someone else to swap reviews — they interview your close contacts, and you do the same for them. 

Part 2: Reinforcing what I learn

From here, I take what I learn and set a few concrete goals for how I’m going to improve. 

For example, from the feedback above, I’d set a goal to take notes on all critical discussions. 

BUT: It’s too easy to slip back into your old comfortable habits.

So I go one step further:

I schedule a monthly email to myself with the report. Then every month, I:

  • Reread the report
  • Reflect on my performance in the last month
  • Decide if I need to change my goals
  • Schedule the email for another month.

Any email provider should have a built-in scheduler like this. You can run exactly my system.

How it’s going

I’ve been running this system for about 5 years now. And the results have been pretty great.

The first few years were pretty humbling. I had no idea some of the (embarrassing) mistakes I was making.

But over time, small improvements compound to big changes.

At the end of the day, don’t take feedback as criticism.

Feedback is a gift. 

And in America at least, it often requires people to go outside their comfort zone.

These days, no matter what feedback someone gives me, I say “thank you”.

Have a great week,