The single best way to improve your skills in any endeavor is to get feedback on your performance.
Two kinds of feedback exist:
If you want to sprint faster, you need a stopwatch that clocks how fast you are running.
If you ran 100 meters twice, the first time in 12 seconds and the second time in 11.5 seconds, you can start looking at what you did differently in the second run. This presupposes you actually had a stopwatch and can measure your performance.
If you want to improve, start tracking your performance statistics. If you want to improve a sales force’s performance, post sales performance for every person on the team… hourly. Sales will improve on just that change alone.
The second form of feedback involves subjective from others.
If you want to improve your 100-meter sprint times from 11.5 to 11.0 seconds, ask a good coach what you could be doing better. This is extremely useful feedback.
If you want to be a better employee, ask your boss what you could do better next time.
If you want to be a better spouse, ask your spouse what you could do to be a better spouse.
If you want to be a better parent, ask your children what you could do to be a better parent.
If you want to be a better friend, ask your friends what you could do to be a better friend.
While this IS common sense, it is most certainly NOT common practice.
Logically, the more feedback you get, the easier it is to improve.
I’ve never had anybody question or disagree with this line of reasoning.
Yet 90%+ of the people I encounter in my professional and personal lives do not actively solicit feedback about their performance from the people around them.
This is especially true in personal relationships.
How many married couples do you know where both spouses ask each other regularly how they can be a better spouse to the other?
How many employees do you know that regularly ask their boss and co-workers for feedback on their performance outside of the standard performance review process?
This doesn’t happen more often for two reasons.
First, many people have low self-esteem. Self-esteem refers to how you feel about yourself as a person. It is a perception of your worth as a human being.
If you have low self-esteem, you would tend to believe you have very low inherent worth as a person — unless you do something that others value and praise as being worthy (e.g., graduate from an Ivy League university, get good grades, get an MBB offer, be rich, lose weight, be beautiful).
If you have low self-esteem, you’ll tend to be extremely sensitive to the perceptions of others.
You’ll likely constantly fear, “What will others think if I did X?”
The problem with low self-esteem is that these fears and insecurities get in the way of asking others for feedback.
For the low self-esteem person, feedback becomes a threat to one’s sense of worth.
When a low self-esteem person gets negative feedback, they often have strong emotional reactions.
These reactions range from “imploding” (e.g., beating one’s self up, self-condemnation), or “exploding” (e.g., being defensive, arguing with the person giving you feedback, angrily lashing out at the person giving you feedback).
In contrast, for the high self-esteem person, feedback is merely a means of improving performance that has no impact on perceptions of self-worth and minimal emotional reaction.
You can give a high self-esteem person feedback and they’ll say, “Thank you for the feedback. That was very helpful.” They might ask clarifying questions, but they won’t start attacking you, arguing with you, or engaging in an awkward confrontation.
This leads me to the second reason why feedback isn’t more prevalent in our culture: avoidance of confrontation.
The reality is that some people react extremely negatively to constructive feedback.
As a result, most people avoid giving feedback in hopes of avoiding such uncomfortable confrontations.
This leads to a perpetual cycle where feedback is not given (and therefore not received either), and the entire culture gets accustomed to not sharing feedback.
Further, many people in the position of being able to give feedback to others themselves have low self-esteem. They are worried that the person that they could give feedback to might not like them if they don’t like the feedback they receive.
As a way to prevent someone else from disliking them, low self-esteem feedback-givers will often avoid giving feedback to minimize this risk.
As a result, low self-esteem in the employee or manager leads to very little feedback, which in turn results in poor team performance.
Similarly, low self-esteem in either spouse leads to very little feedback in the marriage and a poor marriage for both partners.
When a parent or child lacks self-esteem, there will be very little feedback in the parent/child relationship, and that will lead to a strained relationship (usually with the child being unhappy in the relationship).
Self-esteem (or rather the lack of it) heavily influences every facet of many people’s lives.
If you lack self-esteem, it can get in the way of every professional and personal relationship in your life.
If you have high self-esteem, but don’t understand how low self-esteem people see themselves and the world, you will find it very difficult to interact with, manage and build relationships with the vast majority of people around you.
In addition, being able to shift from low to high self-esteem can be life changing. I lived the first 90% of my life with low self-esteem, and the most recent 10% with high self-esteem. The shift has completely changed my life for the better.
This is a topic I’m quite passionate about. To learn more about self-esteem and how to improve it, Click Here.