In The Trenches

Can you handle the truth?

Published on October 30, 2018 Back to blog

This past weekend, while my son was taking a stab (literally) at carving a pumpkin for Halloween, I suggested that he try a different (and slightly safer) method for using the sharp knife. Rather than getting the typical mad response of “Dad, leave me alone. I know what I’m doing,” he thanked me for the feedback and modified his behavior. The evening ended without any blood or tears – and a somewhat decent looking pumpkin.

As a parent and business leader, I believe it’s my responsibility to provide constructive feedback/criticism to my kids and colleagues to help them develop and grow. Letting them continue on with bad habits, inefficient approaches or, in Josh’s case, unsafe behaviors would be irresponsible. However, it’s often uncomfortable to do, as most people respond negatively to it, getting mad and defensive. As Jack Nicholson suggested, most people “can’t handle the truth.” (NOTE: For clarification, I am not talking about getting negative feedback based on someone else’s personal preferences/opinions. I understand that frustration. I’m talking about those times when, in an effort to help you improve, someone points out what you did and provides guidance on how you may be able to do it better.)  

I’m sure that we can all be better about providing constructive criticism (perhaps a topic for another blog). However, today, I suggest that we all take a cue from Josh on how to best respond and learn from such feedback:

  1. Stay calm and don’t take it personally. For most, the instinct is to get mad. Try to stay calm. The feedback isn’t about blame. It’s about helping you recognize what you did (or didn’t) do, and helping you learn from it.
  2. Listen intently. Most people aren’t great at providing constructive criticism (nor do they enjoy giving it). The intent is there, but the delivery can be a bit weak. Listen closely and search for the lesson. In most cases, there is one.
  3. Don’t make excuses. Responding with an en excuse is the equivalent to saying, “I already know what I should have done, but I did it this way anyway.” That is worse than doing something wrong unknowingly (and incredibly frustrating to the person who is trying to help you.) 
  4. Say thank you. In most cases, the person providing feedback is trying to help you. It is not easy to give someone constructive feedback (see #2) because most people don’t take it well (see #1 and #3). The best response is to simply say thank you and take in the lesson.
  5. Confirm that the lesson was learned. After saying thank you, confirm that you actually heard and understood the feedback. The simplest way to do this is to repeat it back (in your own words) to the other person to make sure you understood it properly (and let them know you appreciated the feedback). Or, as Josh did, demonstrate with immediate action. 

For the record, Josh is not perfect with taking feedback (although, my wife may disagree). And I am, by no means, perfect at giving it. But, I hope that this post helps you recognize when someone is trying to help, and how you can respond accordingly. You will both be much better off because of it.

Jeff Freedman
CEO/Managing Partner
Small Army | Finn Partners