On Feedback: Sort out ignorant cynics from useful critics.

Feedback is not something most of us seek out--at least not regularly. Feedback can often be good, positive and encouraging. What stops most of us from seeking feedback is the risk of getting critical feedback. We're afraid of feeling inadequate. We hate feeling emotionally exposed. There is also the implied commitment we make when we seek feedback from others--it implies a commitment to change or improve. We are not all ready for that. Here are some other reasons we don't seek feedback. Workplaces can be toxic. People can be competitive. And people can be ignorant, small minded, and hurtful.


I've been thinking this year about how to help my team and others at work to ask for feedback from others. But that's not necessarily going to help. It is one thing to ask for the feedback and another to do something useful with it. If we help people to sort out the useful, informed feedback from personal attacks, we're a step ahead.

Scott Belsky wrote recently about the difference between criticism and cynicism. He describes cynicism as "a form of doubt resulting from ignorance and antiquated ways." It's common for creative, forward-looking people to be subjected to ridicule and personal attacks from the ignorant. This distinction between cynicism and criticism is important.

Some years ago, I was up for promotion. I found out that there was a recent meeting in which my promotion was being discussed, and my manager was pushing hard for me. He was making the case for why I should be leading this new group. Two people in the room resisted, and offered "just a little feedback" on why they thought it was not a good idea to promote me.

Sometimes people use feedback as a weapon, to limit your influence and status at work. I was not surprised to hear I had a couple self-appointed foes in that room. I had a history as a change agent who shakes things up and challenges the status quo. Ignorant, doubting and cynical people are threat-sensitive to begin with. Bring in new ideas and innovative programs, and the small-minded get even more on edge.

And in case you're wondering, I did get that promotion.

If you ask people to seek more feedback from customers and coworkers, you should also help them develop the skills to sort through feedback. To consider all opinions at work equally is a big mistake. Separate the wheat from the chaff. Reject the cynics, the ignorant and their small-minded views. Embracing informed criticism from people who have high professional standards and a work ethic.

So be careful who you ask for feedback. When you get feedback, try to sort it out and look at the credibility of the source. The best givers of feedback are impartial and are looking out for your best interest at work.