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Why Feedback is Important

The art of hearing “You suck” and how to turn it into something positive

I recently talked with someone who said “I don’t want to reach out to people or send the survey because I’m afraid of what I’ll hear back”. This sentiment is all too familiar and why it takes a certain type of individual to fill the role of customer service. It’s also why people outsource their feedback process on sites and make it look like you’re typing to “Jenny”, the person in the bottom right corner of your screen asking you how they can help, when in actuality “Jenny” is coded to pop-up if you sit on a site page for too long and is a bot looking for keywords in your question to try and solve your problem without a person.

Taking feedback in any form is usually not something people look forward to. Even receiving praise for when you’re meeting expectations can feel awkward and we don’t know how to respond to it. Critical and/or “do better” feedback is what l think is more important to regularly hear. This feedback tends to motivate individuals, teams, and companies in positive ways because it points out where we fall short and makes us evaluate if we’re meeting the promise and guarantee we claim to our customers.

Feedback typically means change, and no one wants to admit they need to change. It’s uncomfortable and pushes us into new areas of growth. I’ve had coaching sessions where people ask for feedback and when I let them know my thoughts for improvement they’ve literally put their heads down on the table and said “This is going to be a lot of work!” in an exhausted voice – we then talk about how to address change through processes that feel manageable and achievable.

If you don’t ask for feedback people are still going to figure out ways to tell you what they think. They may stop using your services/products, or never use your services/products at all, and potentially spread their experiences on various platforms. Or if they work for you or are somehow affiliated with your venture it could create working environments that you’ll have to address (which is why I advocate for HR policies from the jump in ventures). All of this creates more work, money spent, and potentially damage control for the company versus asking for feedback in the first place. 

While taking feedback is work, it’s important and necessary work that is going to make you and your venture better in the long run because you’ll already be implementing change efforts internally and better customer awareness. There are many articles I could link in this post as to how ventures have failed due to not listening to their people. I think we know about many of them already and I hope these stories open all of our eyes as to how we can think about change within our work.

When you receive critical feedback you should 1. Welcome it & take responsibility, 2. Do not try to fix/solve the problem through reactionary processes (ie: “They yelled at me so I yelled back louder”), and 3. Ask questions and/or encourage a further conversation to better understand how you can do better and apologize (if appropriate). If someone doesn’t accept your apology or offer to talk, that’s ok and you should not revert back to item #2 with how to respond.

If you’re on the side where you need to provide feedback based on your experience, remember there are people – just like you – on the other side of the situation who have their best intentions at heart and are trying to do their best. Before choosing to blast on public channels or sending an all-caps message you should 1. Stop and think about what most is bothering you about the situation, 2. Take a few breaths before letting your words out, or walk away from the draft response to calm down a little before actually hitting send. 3. Is this situation a pattern or first time experience? Depending on this you can decide if a private vs. public message is necessary 4. You should not berate a point or try to make someone feel like less of a human when giving feedback – this happens too often still. It’s important to speak to your experience and let people know what your expectations were so they can figure out a way to improve going forward but I do advise you to consider the old saying of “When you point your finger at someone you’re also pointing 3 back at yourself.” Want to talk more about how to ask for and take feedback? Or talk about anything else related to running and working for a startup? Schedule an Office Hour with me.

By Heather Wentler – StartingBlock Entrepreneur in Residence

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