My Feedback Experiment: What Happens When You Send 20+ People an Email Asking them to be Brutally Honest?

My Feedback Experiment: What Happens When You Send 20+ People an Email Asking them to be Brutally Honest?

The last ‘job’ I had working for someone else was when I was 19.

I was an inbound customer service representative for an online book club. I’d take phone calls and place orders for new books.

I’m 29 now. I haven’t had a ‘job’ or a boss for 10 years. Over the last 10 years, I’ve been fortunate to be able to chart my own path and be my own boss.

Do you know what this means?

I haven’t had a ‘Annual Performance Review’ in 10 years.

And right now you might be thinking…

Isn’t this a good thing? Everyone hates annual performance reviews. Are you really about to complain about NOT having an annual performance review? 

The Power of a Feedback Loop

I’m a huge believer in the power and importance of positive, constructive feedback to help you develop and improve your skills. So is Elon Musk;

When I was younger and was training for soccer (in the hope to play professionally), after each training session and game on the way home, my Dad I would discuss my performance. We’d go through the things I’d done well, the moments where my decision making on the pitch could be improved, the instances where I’d dropped my intensity and ‘watched the ball’.

What we had (without me realising it at the time) was a powerful, positive, daily feedback loop that was providing me with key information to learn from to improve my skills as a soccer player.

And yet, despite having experienced the incredible power of having a feedback loop in training for soccer, I haven’t applied this idea to my professional and personal life.

Over the last 1o years, I’ve never had a professional and personal performance review and feedback session.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on why this has been the case.

Open to Feedback vs Actively Seeking Feedback

I’ve always maintained that I’m ‘open to feedback’. That if someone would provide me with feedback, I’d soak it up, listen intently, and carefully, and learn from it.

As a leader however in my organisation it’s very very rare that a team member comes to me and offers, unsolicited feedback. And I can understand why. Giving (unasked for) feedback to a colleague or team member may adversely impact your career progression.

Being ‘open to feedback’ therefore places the onus (and consequences) on my team and organisation to provide me with feedback. In doing so, I’ve delegated my responsibility to improve.

If I want to improve and get better as person and a leader, I must take responsibility. I must place the onus on myself and actively seek feedback through explicitly asking for it.

“We can’t just sit back and wait for feedback to be offered, particularly when we’re in a leadership role. If we want feedback to take root in the culture, we need to explicitly ask for it.” 

– Ed Batista

But explicitly asking for feedback is scary.

The Fear of Feedback

Being ‘open to feedback’ is comfortable. You can maintain at any point that you are approachable and are hungry to learn, improve and grow but you don’t have to do anything about it.

If feedback is offered, it comes as a pleasant surprise which you can respond to. And if no feedback is offered? Great – you can sit back and relax, in the knowledge that you’re doing an amazing job! Right?

But if you actively seek feedback, you are putting yourself out there to be judged. And no one likes being judged.

When I ask for feedback and wait for it (in intense anticipation), a dominant thought races through my mind.

It’s going to be bad. I’m going to find out just how much I suck. 

spongebob

And it’s not just me who thinks this. According to Tony Schwartz, author of “Be Excellent at Anything”, when we hear the phrase from a colleague or friend, “Would you mind if I give you some feedback?” what it means to most of us is “Would you mind if I give you some negative feedback.”

We Are Hardwired to Perceive Feedback as a Threat

According to psychologist Daniel Goleman  threats to our self esteem and self worth in the form of criticism can feel like threats to our survival.

And when we receive feedback we focus on the negative feedback to the exclusion of any positive feedback (even if the feedback was overwhelmingly positive). This is called the Negativity Bias.

Our brains then go into protection mode – neuroscientists have identified that our brains are protective defensive mechanisms that seek to either actively or passively defend and protect us.

So when we hear feedback, we focus on the negative which threatens our ego and sense of self, which feels like a threat to survival, so our brains defend us. 

Our brain protects us in a couple of ways –

  1. We avoid seeking feedback and opportunities to receive feedback
  2. When we hear feedback and information that conflicts with our self image and perception of who we are, our first instinct becomes to change the information, rather than ourselves

Our brains prioritise the short term benefit of protecting our ego and sense of self over the long term benefit of improving and developing our skills.

So in short, without realising we run away from receiving feedback – it’s a self protection mechanism.

runingaway

And this is why being ‘open to feedback’ simply doesn’t work if we want to improve and get better and what we do.

To overcome our psychological hardwiring, we need to actively seek and ask for feedback.

My Feedback Experiment

So I made a decision.

I decided that if I am going to become a better leader, the first step I need to take is to better know myself – to learn and understand what I’m good at, and where I need to improve.

And the best way for me to do this is to to actively ask for feedback so I can conduct a professional and personal performance review and feedback session on myself.

But how?

Step 1: Conduct a Self-Review

Before I started actively asking people for feedback, I conducted a quick self-review.

I sat down and wrote down a list of:

  1. All the areas I believed I could improve
  2. All the areas I thought other people would also highlight as areas of improvement

I wanted to do this so I could evaluate my own self-awareness – was I as self-aware as I thought? I also wanted to use this to see where I had ‘black spots’ where I couldn’t accurately see myself.

Here’s the picture of my ‘self-review’:

IMG_2451

In case you can’t read this, I identified the following as areas where I believed improvement was required:

  • Punctuality
  • Actively listening and being present with people
  • Focus
  • Having more empathy for people
  • Over committing to things
  • Argumentative
  • Stubborn
  • Calling my family more often!

Step 2: Send An Email to Friends, Family and Colleagues

In Hal Elrod’s book, ‘Miracle Morning’, Hal shares how he started actively seeking feedback by sending his friends and family an email (with the actual email he used included in the book).

Inspired by Hal’s example, as my next step, I took his email and made some small modifications to personalise it to my context, and I then sent the below email out to over 20 people – family, friends, colleagues, and current and past team members who I’ve worked with.

Asking them for their brutally honest feedback…

Here’s the email I sent asking for feedback

Screenshot 2016-08-28 14.20.25And I then waited (in intense anticipation expecting the worst) for replies to my email.

13 minutes later…

I had my first reply sitting in my inbox.

Opening that first email was difficult. I opened it with trepidation, not knowing what to expect, but expecting the worst.

Only to discover an incredibly warm, kind, heartfelt response, with some amazing feedback on areas I could improve, as well as areas of strength.

And that’s when I discovered – actively asking for feedback isn’t scary. It was an incredibly empowering feeling. I felt on top of the world!

Step 3: Document the Feedback and Identify Actions

As the responses starting flooding my inbox over the next couple of days, I began documenting the feedback in a spreadsheet.

I created 4 columns:

  1. Name of the person who provided the feedback
  2. The theme of the feedback
  3. The feedback itself
  4. My thoughts on the feedback and the actions I am going to take to respond to the feedback

It looked like this..

Screenshot 2016-08-29 08.56.28

When I was finished documenting the feedback I had received – my areas of improvement and strengths, it was 17 pages long…

And I felt incredibly inspired to make changes in my life!

The Results of My Feedback Email

What was the results of my feedback email?

You can read the full results (anonymised to protect people’s privacy) below. I want to be 100% transparent about the feedback I receive, so I can also be 100% accountable to the world!

Here’s the full results of my feedback email…

Click here (or the picture below) to read the full spreadsheet.

Screenshot 2016-08-29 08.53.25

The core themes that emerged from the feedback that I need to work on is:

  1. Respect for others – I’m always 5-10 minutes late for everything, I multi-task all the time and am not 100% present when interacting with people due to my multi-tasking.
  2. Lack of empathy – I’m very rational and objective, and this means I don’t often consider how people feel, how I make people feel and what people want and need to feel.
  3. Ego and stubbornness – I’m stubborn and argumentative and this deprives me of learning more because I think I know it, or want to show that I’m competent and know my stuff.  I rarely admit I make mistakes and all of this combined makes it hard for people to be able to help me.
  4. Focus – I say ‘Yes’ to too many things, I multi-task constantly to try and get everything completed that I’ve committed. I don’t focus on a single thing, and have lacked a focus on developing my inner self and my mindset.
  5. Communication – I’m not great at self-promoting and sharing what I do and how others can help, I rarely communicate how I feel (as opposed to what I think) and I don’t really listen with an open heart and mind.

What black spots did the feedback uncover?

The feedback email has helped me uncover a number of ‘black spots’ – areas that I could improve that I wasn’t aware of which has been hugely powerful.

In particular three ‘black spots’ that stood out for me are:

  1. Impact of Ego: The degree to which my ego and stubbornness and my need to ‘be right’ get in the way of me learning more from others, and empowering others to help me
  2. Communication: That I’m not a good self-promoter and this means most people don’t really know what I do, or how they can get involved, and this in turn limits the ability of the organisations I lead to achieve their missions
  3. Inner Self & Mindset: I thought I had a strong mindset, was learning a lot and had done lots of inner work, but I have discovered that I have lots of work to do! I need to better uncover my unconscious biases that shape the actions I take each day and develop a more powerful mindset of abundance!

This isn’t to say these 3 black spots are the 3 critical things I need to work on first – it did however highlight areas I wasn’t aware I needed to work on!

The Benefits of Actively Asking for Feedback

Since actively seeking and asking for feedback, I’ve experienced some incredible benefits which has been very exciting.

Based on my own experience of actively asking for feedback, here’s my 5 reasons why you should seriously consider actively asking for feedback 🙂

  1. Deeper Connections with People: It’s resulted in me having some incredible conversations with family, friends and colleagues, and better connecting with them, and deepening our relationships and connection to each other.
  2. Greater Awareness of Self: I now have a much better understanding of my strengths and areas of improvements as perceived by others, and I’m starting to know myself at a deeper level.
  3. Tangible Actions for Improvement: It has given me a clear list of tangible things I can do to become a better person, husband, friend, colleague and leader which is super exciting and empowering!
  4. Rapid Personal Growth: I have experienced huge personal growth and improvement in an incredibly rapid period of time and I’m excited for the future growth.
  5. Positive Relationship with Feedback: I’ve broken down my fear of actively asking for feedback and changed my relationship with feedback – it’s now something I’m excited for!

What Next?

Asking for feedback is the first step. To make it worthwhile, I now need to take action.

In future posts I’ll share my journey as I start taking action on this feedback and the results as I work to become a better leader!

Have you actively asked for feedback before? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!

Written by
Rowan Kunz
Join the discussion

6 comments
  • Hey Rowan, great post! I especially can relate to the instinctive emotion-tainted response to feedback or criticism. Agree wholeheartedly that to be able to improve ourselves we need to be able to receive feedback or criticism as objectively as possible. Unconscious biases are a big and a difficult one, as they are inextricably linked to who you are. For any of these that are uncovered it requires an ongoing concerted effort to change the brains wiring, and even given this, in times of stress you will return to your old habits :/ Not sure if I’m brave enough to follow your example just yet, but then again changing your outlook when you’re younger is a lot easier than when your older!

    • Thanks Alex! Yes, I agree – our unconscious biases are very powerful – I’ve been working on identifying these and trying to actively re-wire them which as you’ve identified, is no easy task!

  • Great article!! Maybe one or two more graphics as they broke it up really well! I just sent my emails out too

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