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Take It or Leave It ... But Get It

by Nan S. Russell

The expense was substantial. An immersion workshop with twelve participants sharing a common goal to hone their skills. With nervous eagerness like kindergarteners embracing school, we received input, critique, and suggestions about our work. Some of the feedback I used. Some of it I didn't. But all of it was helpful.

I haven't always viewed feedback that way. At times in my career, I've taken it more like a personal indictment than a helpful gauge; an intruder I needed to defend against, rather than input I needed to evaluate. I've even found myself akin to a workshop colleague who said he wanted input, but when he got responses different from what he expected, he argued and debated and explained. What he wanted was praise or input he agreed with, not honest reactions.

You see it's not enough to ask for feedback. You have to be open to receive it. After three days of our colleague's defensiveness, any willingness to offer anything but cursory input was stomped out. His argumentative actions lost him an opportunity for connection with fresh voices and new input. And we lost an opportunity to practice giving helpful feedback with authentic insights and thoughtful reflection.

I learned a painful lesson about seeking feedback in my first management position. Given a large assignment, I was proud of what I produced, certain it would be received as an outstanding product. Instead I discovered my work was mediocre at best and significantly flawed because I failed to seek feedback and assessment from the end users along the way. Relying only on my own thoughts and perceptions was a big mistake.

Over the years in the corporate world, I learned to view feedback as data. The more data I got, the more information I had to improve what I was working on. Realizing I was in charge of how I used that feedback data, I learned to seek it. Feedback is opinion; not fact. It's something to evaluate; not blindly accept.

But, I find when several people have the same perception, it's good to listen. When I get insights I hadn't thought about, it's good to consider them. When input is mixed, it's good to follow my instincts. But when people provide feedback with a hatchet, finding only fault rather than offering ideas for improvement, it's good to look at it with distant curiosity.

Bottom line: if you want to be winning at working you must learn to seek and offer well-intentioned feedback. I think of it like the Sicilian proverb: "Only your real friends will tell you your face is dirty." Let input, suggestions, and feedback be real friends at work.

(c) 2004 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Nan Russell is a writer, columnist, small business owner and online instructor. She is currently writing her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared. For more information or to subscribe to her eColumn, visit Nan's web site at

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