Thankful for feedback
How to become more thankful for the feedback in our lives.
With feedback, there seems to be an expectation of thanks. We’re told over and over that feedback is a gift – how could we not be thankful? But feedback doesn’t always feel like a gift. And depending on how feedback is shared, we might not be feeling very thankful after receiving it. When others approach us with feedback, we may even shake our heads and think to ourselves, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
I’ve been thinking about thanks this week for all the obvious reasons. Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude, of course – but not just for the blessings in our lives. It’s an opportunity to express thanks for the messiness of life – the near misses, total fails and moments we wish we could take back. At first, these occasions don’t seem like cause for applause. Upon further reflection, they have the potential to define and refine us. Which is why I’m thankful for feedback, especially when it goes down hard. Without it, life’s messes would stay messy.
How can we turn feedback into something that sparks joy, energy, and yes, even gratitude? With math, of course!
An equation for being thankful
Admittedly, I’m not a math person. Some kids might get a 70 on their geometry test and shamefully throw it in the trash. Me? I’d proudly put it on the fridge. But over time, I’ve come to appreciate the order and structure that math brings to our lives, and feedback is no exception. It provides an elegant formula for receiving feedback fearlessly, with a large helping of gratitude.
“Feedback math” is actually pretty simple, even for a math-challenged person like me. It follows a three-step process: Addition. Subtraction. Multiplication. When we think about feedback in math terms, we can solve for the problem of gratitude.
The first step is to look at the sum total of feedback. How did it add to our understanding of who we are and what we do? Has it increased our capacity to do better work and become a better person? With addition, we look at the whole of feedback, not just at its parts. Somewhere in that message, there’s a signal that can help us do more, not less. Look for it.
This step is a bit harder because it forces us to ask ourselves some uncomfortable questions: What would I be missing without feedback? How would that decrease my professional and personal value? Subtraction isn’t easy, since feedback has a way of naturally diminishing us. After getting criticized or called out, we may already feel like a minus. But as the old saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. By thinking prospectively about what our lives might have looked like without feedback, we position ourselves to experience feedback with more grace and gratitude.
In the final step, we compound feedback by multiplying its value. To do that, we turn to the future and ask growth questions: As a result of this feedback, how can I exponentially increase my impact at work or at home? Who or what will I make better? This is the power of feedforward, which unlocks future potential and possibilities. With multiplication, we focus on how to do better for ourselves and make things better for others. We scale our ability to create positive and lasting change.
As I’ve said more than a few times from the stage: We can’t go back and change the past, but we can start right where we are and fix the future.
So yes, we can and should be thankful for feedback, even if we don’t love the way it lands.
It’s just math.
Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who are celebrating it. I hope that you experience feedback with less fear, more joy, and much thanks.