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Beg for the bad

Updated: Jun 5

A gray sign that says "Bad"

Self improvement is a huge industry. Motivational speakers, books, coaches, seminars. Billions of dollars are spent by people who want to improve themselves. It’s easy to spend money in an effort to improve yourself. What’s harder is receiving the truth. Truly informative feedback can be painful to receive. But it’s often free if you can persuade someone to give it to you.

Restaurants get informative feedback every time someone sends food back. It’s immediate, it’s sometimes delivered with emotion, but it’s rarely faked. The waiter instantly knows that a tip is potentially on the line, and the kitchen gets important information. It’s not fun. But it’s essential to retaining the customer.

Most of us don’t get such direct and blunt feedback. It’s more common to not want to hurt someone’s feelings. The easiest path? Silence. We’re taught “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.”

Do you want to improve? Do you work with other people either as coworkers or customers? If so, you have a treasure trove of information available provided you can coax it out of them. Try one of these phrases:

  • “Hi, can I ask a favor? I’m hoping for some really direct feedback, even at the risk of it sounding hurtful. I’m working on some self-improvement and I would really appreciate if you could share what you don’t like about [my performance][my product][our service] “

  • “We appreciate your business, but we’d really love to know what we’ve done that’s underwhelmed or disappointed you, any areas that we’ve let you down. This is super important to us, and I promise we’ll take your feedback only constructively and not personally.”

  • ”Would you be open to telling me things that bug you? I know it’s not a common request, but I’m really wanting to know what people are more apprehensive of sharing for fear of hurting feelings. I’d be grateful if you could be as direct as possible, even if you think I’ll be crushed.”

This may require more effort than just one ask. Once people realize you’re deeply appreciative of the truth, they may open up more. Don’t explain, don’t defend, don’t correct. Write down what they are saying: your brain has a funny way of sometimes only hearing what it wants or coloring the feedback based on previous bias or beliefs. 

Direct feedback doesn’t need to be mean. It can still be delivered compassionately. Much negative feedback is withheld. Do what you can to remain open to it. Beg for it. People will be resistant at first, but if you can get them to appreciate that you truly value it and that you won’t be personally hurt by it, you may receive critically important information that will help you improve. 

There are many people who will happily take your money to help you improve. Try seeing what feedback you can get from your existing customers, employees and vendors. It’s usually free, it won’t make you happy to hear, but it will make you better if you’re truly open to the goal of self-improvement. The alternative is getting fired, losing partnerships or having people quit, in other words the most expensive kind of feedback. 


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