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How To Get The Feedback You Didn't Want To Hear (But Really Need To Know)
By Joelle Jay, Ph.D.

What if there are things you are doing - or not doing - that are sabotaging your success? What if there are few key things you're missing that could help you get even better results? There's only one way to find out, and that's by getting feedback.

Unfortunately, feedback is sometimes given a bad rap. Poorly conducted performance reviews, harsh criticisms by thoughtless colleagues, and bad experiences with multi-rater feedback systems all contribute to the temptation to steer clear of feedback if you can help it.

But feedback is how we learn. Without feedback and reflection, you have no way to know how you're doing. You don't know what others think of you or how you might be holding yourself back. What you don't know can hurt you. A lack of self-knowledge can limit your opportunities and even stall your career.

On the other hand, when you seek feedback, you open yourself up to reflection. You become much more thoughtful about what you're doing and why, how you can improve, how you can maximize your efforts and get better, more predictable results.

When you get high quality feedback, you gain a tremendous advantage. By seeing yourself as others see you, suddenly you realize where, why and how you can improve. You understand where you're holding yourself back and where you have the opportunity to surge ahead.

Asking for feedback can benefit you in the following ways:

• Identifying Your Strengths.
Feedback helps you maximize your natural strengths and reach your full potential. This is a good idea anytime, but especially when you're secure in your skills and competence and want to truly excel.

• Seeing Into Your Blind Spots.
You might want feedback because you want to improve your leadership and see into your blind spots. This is particularly important when you have been newly promoted or are in the throes of a new endeavor.

• Meeting Your Goals.
Feedback gives you specific direction on how to meet your goals. This approach works best when you are already clear on what your goals are. You don't need information about what to do, but rather how you are to do it.

• Preparing for Advancement.
You might want feedback to prepare yourself for advancement. This method is best when you are seeking less self-awareness and more advice and direction.

• Becoming More Effective.
Feedback can help you become more effective in your current job, which is helpful at any time and in fact is a strategy you might want to use over and over. Feedback can even give you a sense of what your clients want and need. By asking questions not just about yourself, but about your clients and customers, you can better serve their needs and therefore increase your value to them.

What are your reasons for seeking feedback? What results do you want to achieve? Think about your reasons for feedback in advance to take the fullest advantage of the learning it has to offer. Then, before you actually get the feedback, give careful thought to what will happen when you receive it.

Leaders all react to feedback differently. Reactions range from tears to elation. Are you interpreting the feedback in the way that will be most helpful to you?

Here are ten dos and don'ts that will help you make the most of the feedback you receive.

1. Do choose one or two areas to work on.
Use your feedback as a jumping-off point for an action plan. Choose one most impactful area to master. Make some decisions about what it will take to improve in that area, and find a commitment you can get started on right away. You can always come back for more later.

2. Do focus as much on your strengths as your weaknesses.
As you read your feedback, remember to focus on what's right, not just what's wrong. It's just as important to build on what's working than it is to improve what's not.

3. Do save your feedback for a specific time set aside for review and reflection.
Give yourself the chance to absorb the feedback. Take the time to get in the right mindset to hear both good and bad news, and be sure you have enough time to work with the information productively.

4. Do seek further detail and clarification as needed.
You may come across feedback you don't really understand. Don't just speculate. Go find out. While you're at it, thank the people who gave you feedback for their time and thoughts. Giving feedback can be just as risky as receiving it.

5. Do take notes and explore your observations.
Your feedback isn't the final word on you. It's just a place to start. Add your own insights to what you learn in order to make sense of it and find the real learning.

6. Don't choose too many areas to work on.
Feedback can be overwhelming. Every comment, good or bad, can be a place to look for improvement. Be careful not to get caught in "analysis paralysis."

7. Don't focus on the "bad stuff."
It's easy to get sidetracked by fixating on what's not going well. Feedback is important, but it's not everything. Even when you get harsh feedback, you can learn to put it in perspective.

8. Don't just skim the feedback.
Slow down and analyze it well. You might even want to read or review your feedback several times to really understand the message.

9. Don't hold feedback against the people who gave it to you.
Every single person who gets feedback feels the same way: exposed. You might feel a little defensive, or even angry. Learn to connect with others over the experience for support. Don't shoot the messenger.

10. Don't put the feedback in a drawer.
Feedback is a message given to you by others who care enough to tell you the truth. If all you do is throw it in a drawer and forget about it, it's not worth going through the process at all.
If you adhere to these suggestions, you will be in a much stronger place to capitalize on the learning available in the feedback you receive.

Of course, feedback isn't the only way to learn about yourself. It's also helpful to round out the feedback you get from others with the reflection you do on your own, by taking psychological or scientific assessments, and having good old-fashioned one-on-one conversations with people who can help you be a better you. But feedback is a powerful tool. Like all tools, it serves a particular purpose. The more you learn about how to use feedback for what it can and can't do, the more productive the experience will be.

The process of receiving feedback is a vulnerable one, but ironically the feedback can strengthen you as a leader. Follow these dos and don'ts to be sure you make the most of the opportunity.

About the Author:
Joelle K. Jay, Ph.D. ( is an executive coach specializing in leadership development and the author of The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership, in which shows leaders how to improve their effectiveness by learning to lead themselves. Her newsletter, The Inner Edge Quarterly, offers articles, exercises, tips, quotes, and success stories from real leaders to help you excel. To register, please visit and click on Newsletter, or email


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