One skill that will never let you down

DR. PAVAN SONI
4 min readMay 20, 2024
One skill that will never let you down

We all want to improve, or so we hear. But very few people are able to push their mental and emotional boundaries to remain vital, on a continuous basis. Initially you tend to compete with others, and very soon you realize the futility of the entire enterprise and then focus on the more earnest race — competing with yourself. How better I am today than yesterday? That’s the only question.

Here’s one skill that’s instrumental in being a continuous learner, and to grow incessantly — soliciting feedback. It’s not easy to take feedback, let alone admit and work on it. But that’s what distinguishes the finishers from the numerous starters.

Over the last 20 years of my teaching and consulting career, I have had some very nasty feedbacks. I got one just three days back. But I can tell you for sure that I am here chiefly because of critical feedback, and not so much owing to praise (I typically don’t look for external motivation). But a critique is very much welcome, however distasteful it may be, including the one for this piece.

So here’re three tips on how to make the most of a feedback.

Seek feedback proactively, but be clear ‘from whom’

After a well delivered lecture or a perceptibly well done workshop it’s not easy to revisit what went wrong. But that’s precisely the seed of your onward growth. You proactively seek feedback, but from specific people. Demand a perspective from those who gain from offering you a feedback. Who have a skin in the game. Who would seek mutual improvement. Don’t go around asking, “so, how was it?”. You would mostly get canned opinions, which are worst form of feedback and best form of flattery. You will come back feeling bloated in your head, but worst-off inside.

Instead, seek critical views from those who tend to benefit from offering you their honesty. For instance, by the end of your course at an academic institute, solicit a detailed account from the course coordinator, as she betted on you. Try connecting back with the student reps, fellow teachers, and course committees. In a corporate milieu, it’s a good idea to seek critical feedback from the business, and not just the learning and development team. Keep it objective, brief, and levelled. Seek not just negatives, but also what went well.

Never shoot the messenger

It’s very typical of us to be defensive and get into a justification mode whenever a feedback is offered — solicited or otherwise. Hold you tongue. Don’t shoot the messenger, even if you don’t agree with her. Three reasons. Firstly, even if she’s completely wrong, winning her over that you are indeed listening is more important than being correct or correcting her. Secondly, even if this feedback is bogus, but if you shut her up, you would miss out on all future possibilities of self-correction. Lastly, if you are willing to take a feedback, as it is, the other party would be obliged too to listen to you.

My practice is that I let the other person complete and more. I tend not to interrupt. Never to offer any rebuttal or explanation, as it’s not for her to make a decision on you. Let her finish and come back to you again. And always thank her profoundly for sharing the truth with you (truth at least in her mind).

Don’t feel obliged to work on every feedback

Take feedback, but don’t be compelled to work on every item. It’s completely up to you what you do with the feedback, how much you want to bring into your practice. It’s a good idea to take some bit of it, but a bad idea to take all of it.

You see, you have a certain style of teaching or carrying out a work. After a time, it becomes your idiosyncrasy. Some like it, others won’t. So, don’t force everyone to like it. You solicit feedback, thank profoundly, take what’s worth and repeat the cycle again.

For instance, in one of my corporate programs, an L&D professional suggested that I must use ppts, instead of using Murals or whiteboards, as some people find it difficult without a ppt. Now, I chose to not change that part of my delivery, for I know that a no-ppt model would certainly hurt a few, but the whole idea is to push the limits. Is she mad at me? No. Because 70 percent of her feedback I did take.

In summary, feedback is lynchpin from good to great. Be wise to improve yourself, otherwise…

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DR. PAVAN SONI

Innovation Evangelist and author of the book, Design Your Thinking.