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Be courageous: open up to feedback

19 Jun 2018 - Blog

Be courageous: open up to feedback


I recently wrote about the importance of giving feedback. The other side of the same coin is about how we can become better at asking for and receiving feedback. For many this is more challenging, primarily because the experience often puts us in the scary position outside of our comfort zone. As the well-known 20th century psychotherapist Carl Rogers wrote,

“The great majority of us cannot listen; we find ourselves compelled to evaluate, because listening is too dangerous. The first requirement is courage, and we do not always have it.”


The whole ‘do one thing every day that scares you’ may be a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason. When we are convinced of our own sole intelligence we avoid the uncomfortable and keep our ego secure. It’s a defense mechanism that helps us to not feel stupid. Its one of the reasons why the senior leaders at People Insight gifted each employee £500 with a simple instruction; go out and learn something you haven’t done before.


Recently it was shown that those who have the highest levels of ‘belief-superiority’ (where one often believes one’s views are more correct than someone else’s) tended to have the largest gap between perceived and actual knowledge and also had increased selective exposure bias.


Here are my four tips to help us be open to feedback to improve personal growth:


  1. Be humble

Always see yourself as a student; by doing so you are already introducing the key ingredient to maximising learning; humility. A good dose of humility encourages you to accept that there is always something to learn. No matter how senior you are, always be a student.



In his book ‘Ego is the enemy’, Ryan Holiday nicely illustrates this with Kirk Hammett. Upon being appointed to be the lead guitarist of Metallica, Kirk did not just sit back and soak in the glory, he continued to keep his teacher and continued to learn and challenge himself. No matter how good he became he always saw room to learn from someone else, even if the teacher was not technically better in every way. He continued to receive the critical, objective, judgmental feedback he needed. Personally, if I made it to the top I would probably be tempted to put my feet up and just continue doing what I was doing. That is when my ego would have gotten the better of me.


“Because we make ourselves deaf to feedback, because we overestimate our abilities, because we become consumed with ourselves, we end up subjecting ourselves not just to the inevitable stumbles or difficulties of life but catastrophic, painful failures.” Ryan Holiday


  1. Apply a mixed martial arts approach


Frank Shamrock, a skillful mixed martial artist champion and pioneer, developed a system of learning for himself and those he trains, one that lends itself well to organisations. The ‘plus, minus, and equal’ system. Have someone:


  • ‘Better’ than you that you can learn from
  • ‘Less experienced’ who you can teach
  • ‘Equal’ that you can challenge yourself against.


Shamrock is among the best in his field and yet he accepted there are others out there that know something he doesn’t. By continuing to teach others he also probably kept reminding himself of important lessons.


  1. Enhance existing surveys and 360 feedback mechanisms


In your organisation, evaluate do you have a culture of asking for feedback? Ask appropriate questions in your employee survey (e.g. ‘my manager seeks feedback on his/her own performance’).


People Insight supported Cancer Research UK to embed a manager insight framework into their employee survey, helping managers to get used to taking on feedback. They followed up with opportunities for coaching for lower scoring managers, manager toolkits, spotlight sessions where senior leaders shared their results (the good, the bad, and the ugly!), and the chance to repeat a 180 degree feedback process to check on improvements.


  1. Get really interested in your failures and mistakes


People with a growth mindset tend to believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through hard work. They do not think that innate intelligence is irrelevant, but believe that they can be smarter through persistence and dedication (as opposed to having a fixed mindset, where one tends to believe their basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, are largely fixed traits).


In an experiment, psycho-physiologist Jason Moser, demonstrated the differences in brain signals between those who have a growth mindset vs. a fixed mindset. Those with a growth mindset were interested in their mistakes and played closer attention to them. They were engaging with errors to learn to do better next time.


The best learning often comes from stepping out of your comfort zone. Let us be courageous, let us take risks, let us live dangerously (to an extent) and go out to seek feedback and, learn from others. Being Greek, I felt it natural to finish with a quote from the half man half myth Socrates;



Thanks to Costa Antoniou for this piece.


Sources & further reading:

British Psychological Society Research Digest

Ryan Holiday – Ego is the enemy

Carl Rogers – psychologist

Jason Moser – How the brain reacts to mistakes  AND abstract 
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