Remember the old staff suggestion boxes? Staff were encouraged to submit ideas, suggestions, criticisms etc via a suggestion box which once every week or so a manager would open and review. If their suggestion was controversial or personal they could submit it anonymously. In the bad old days this was sometimes the only voice that a staff member had.

Nowadays we have the 360 degree feedback system where feedback is solicited from everyone at every level of a company. This is a good system as long as it is done confidentially and everyone participates in good faith. There are some problems with it however. Depending on the culture of a business it may be extremely difficult for someone to give their boss negative feedback. The boss may not want to hear it and we don’t want to give it to him/her for fear of recrimination.

I observed this situation in a company I was advising. The CEO in question just shut down when the criticism was provided. He couldn’t cope with it and wouldn’t do anything about it. He just didn’t want to be told what to do. He couldn’t believe that how he perceived himself and his behaviour was entirely different to how his team viewed him. He never bothered to ask anyone for their view and no-one bothered to tell him. When I pointed this out he froze and went into denial. His ego had been hurt.

The problem lies in the fact that some successful people are actually delusional about their achievements and abilities. When times are good they take the credit but when they’re bad it’s the market’s fault! They believe that they are top performers but in reality they’re not. They don’t like being told they are wrong and they don’t want to change, no matter how compelling the evidence is. Unfortunately, their self worth is too closely associated with their position so they take any negative feedback personally and ignore the facts. Colin Powell provided great advice when he once said – “avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.”

The thing you have to remember is that feedback relates entirely to past issues and behaviours. You can’t change the past so it’s better not to spend time worrying about it. Instead focus on what can be done about the future. If you get feedback (negative or positive) don’t argue about it or ignore it. Instead ask this simple question – “how can I do better?” This diffuses almost any situation and cuts to the heart of the problem. Even better, it focuses on the fix, not on the problem.

Try it out. The power of this simple question in influencing culture and performance might surprise you.

Have a great week!

PS. I am a guest panellist at an upcoming Innovation Forum in Melbourne. You are cordially invited to this event – Please join us for a  fun and inspiring evening. It’s on next Tues (23rd Feb) so grab your ticket!

Here is a series of images from inspirational photographer .Thanks Ross.