Hey, you suck!

No, not you, but me. Well not exactly, but there are definitely things I could do better. How do I know? Because I asked those I work with – all of us at Keystone did – as you might expect from an organisation that helps others to improve how they work by harnessing the power of feedback. All Keystone staff recently asked both clients and each other to rate their performance and to suggest how they could improve. This exercise feeds into our annual performance review process, and I recently received my feedback.

At Keystone, we are very quick to make the Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 15.52.38argument that listening to those you aim to serve is not only the right thing to do, but also the bright thing – a way to not only better understand impact, but more importantly as a way to improve impact. We lay out the normative arguments for listening and responding, demonstrate how others are doing it, and even provide the tools to do it systematically and cheaply. But it can be easy to forget that hearing honest and frank feedback, however useful, can be hard.

We are all human after all, and listening to what people think of us can be tough – even when we know the rationale for doing so inside out. Believe me. Having stewed on some of my client and colleague feedback for 24 hours, however, a few things made it all a little easier to digest. Firstly, I feel at complete ease discussing my shortcomings with others at Keystone. We have a culture which encourages such openness – no one will be punished for negative feedback, and instead our collective focus will be placed on how to address areas in need of improvement. Secondly, it is helpful to remember the spirit in which feedback has been given. Even when comments are personal by their very nature, they have been given by engaged and interested clients and colleagues, who want you to be the best you can be – they are helping, aiding, encouraging. The last time I received such systematic feedback was at school, but this is a far cry from “Kai is a fat pie.” This is designed to build me up, rather than knock me down.

All this to say, I get it, I’m with you, listening can be hard. But the alternative is even more daunting. Open and frank feedback is an indication of a good, healthy and valuable relationship; and responding to it will improve that relationship still further. I would rather hear “hey, you suck!” from someone who bothered to give me feedback than nothing from those who don’t feel it’s worth their time engaging. To any clients reading this who gave me some feedback – thanks, and I will be in touch shortly…

For more thoughts about how to take feedback well, check-out the book: Thanks for the Feedback.

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