#430  from Innovative Leader Volume 8, Number 10          October 1999

The Need For Feedback
by Dianna Booher

Dianna Booher is CEO of Booher Consultants, a Dallas-based communications training
firm that offers writing, oral presentations, interpersonal skills, customer service communications, and personal productivity/life balance topics (phone 800-342-6621; www.booherconsultants.com).  Her latest books include The Worth of a Woman's Words (Nelson/Word, Nashville, TN, 1999) and Communicate with Confidence! (McGraw-Hill, New York, 1994).

As a busy professional constantly balancing schedules, deadlines, and priorities while dealing with a vast variety of personalities, there is an often-neglected resource that can make the difference between success and failure and conducting business with relative strangers or trusted partners.

The resource is feedback--and it's a marketing tool worth its weight in gold if mined consistently and effectively. While many professionals spend time assimilating, assessing, and acting upon information after a project or event, relatively little time is spent reviewing, reevaluating, and reorganizing information during the project or event.  Those who want to stay ahead in this ever-changing information age not only see constant and comprehensive feedback as a luxury but a necessity.

Take the initiative.  Most people mistakenly assume that feedback will automatically appear on their desk, in their e-mail, or in person. While they sit on their hands waiting and wondering, more insightful and opportunistic professionals know that most feedback has to be extracted, digested, and analyzed. Don't leave the responsibility to others.  This is your job, so take the initiative. You have too much to lose if you don't get feedback and much to gain if you do.

Ask the Right People the Right Questions 

Many times it's not that we don't ask for feedback; it's that we ask the wrong person or the wrong question--and we end up with gossip or guesswork. We ask associates for information only clients would know, clients about things only vendors would know, and vendors for data only associates would know.  To get the right response, you have to ask the right person.

It's your responsibility to phrase your questions so others understand the content and scope of your request.  Do you want general or specific information?  Personal opinion or survey data?  Selected input or overall consensus?  The more focused your requests, the more precise, comprehensive, and helpful responses will be. 

Queue Up with Smart Questions

After you have initiated the feedback and sought out the right people, interpret and analyze what they've said.  Does their feedback need your feedback? 

"I was expecting more help from your support staff" or "I didn't follow all the points of your presentation" are potentially helpful comments, but they need further explanation.

Was your staff unavailable?  Unwilling to help?  Or unaware they were needed? Did you need to provide additional information in your presentation? Define things more clearly?  Bring demos?  Provide specs from the manufacturer? If you don't probe deeper into unclear feedback, you'll be left with mere complaints.

Draw on Expertise from Your Partners

Most of the professionals you partner with are just that--professionals--experts in their fields of finance, public relations, travel coordination, meeting planning.  Of the myriad of decisions you face daily, few of them have not been heard of and successfully dealt with by your partners. Instead of insisting on a 5:30 p.m. start for your downtown mixer, ask the shuttle company the preferable times and routes.  Though you used a particular design for your brochures last year, see if the printer has any creative alternatives.  Get suggestions from hotel staff as to the most effective ways to set up a room. Be careful not to have your mind set so firmly that you can't entertain better or newer suggestions. 

Apply Liberally to the Affected Area

After you solicit and understand specific feedback, evaluate it in light of your personal goals and methods. Is it an accurate assessment or a subjective opinion?  Is the person in a position to know what he or she is talking about?  Is a change in your style or method worth the effort?  Will this change contribute to your long-term personal or professional growth?

Granted, not all feedback is created equal.  But don't just stand there, do something.  Evaluate.  Reconsider.  Modify.  Reaffirm.  But do something!

Whether you're dealing with caterers or clients, entertainers or executives, accountants or advertisers--or all of them at once--feedback is a great barometer for not only knowing where you are and where you're heading, but also where your efforts should be focused next time.

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