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No Holds Barred

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How often do you ask for feedback from your network? Honest, genuine, no holds barred feedback?

We all like to know when we're doing something well but one of the advantages of a strong network is having people who genuinely want you to succeed and who will be honest with you when you need to do things better, differently or not at all.

One of the most common exercises I set my mentees on Referral Programmes is to ask their network for their perception of what they do for a living, as a way of finding out how effectively they are getting their message across. While they are doing so, I also suggest they ask their contacts what their biggest strengths are and where they can improve. Many people shy away from the latter task but a large number have also found it incredibly valuable.

I make no secret of the impact feedback from my network has had on our business. In fact, without members of my network giving brutal feedback several years ago, we wouldn't be in business now. We were on the wrong track, losing money and throwing good money after bad. It took the objective view of a Mastermind Group to recognise where the problem lay and give us the kick up the backside and confidence to change course.

Of course, feedback is a two way process and you have to be just as willing, when asked, to be honest with the people you trust and care for as to ask for their honesty.

I'm a Fellow of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA) and attended the London Region meeting on Saturday. To kick off the day there were five 'Showcases', where Associates and Members presented ten minute talks and waited for feedback from their peers. It's one of the most frightening talks you can give, presenting to professional speakers and asking for their feedback.

The interesting thing is that much of the feedback in these session is often geared to praising the speakers and their contribution rather than offering genuine constructive criticism. In some cases the balance of praise to critique does not seem to reflect the presentation that had preceded it. The PSA is a wonderfully supportive community but is it necessarily supportive to simply praise rather than encourage and signpost improvement?

Former PSA and Global Speakers Federation President Alan Stevens, who was also present and who trains people in presentation skills, clearly felt the same. In the PSA Facebook group yesterday he said,

"'If you can't say anything real nice, it's better not to talk at all, that's my advice...' or so Sydney Clare wrote in the lyrics to "Please don't talk about me when I'm gone" back in 1930. But is that the best policy when offering feedback to speakers?

"It's important to encourage people, and the speaking community here in PSA is wonderfully supportive, with people being given applause and praise for their performances in front of their peers. However, the PSA exists to help speakers develop, not just to tell them they delivered well.

"My view is that the balance of praise versus constructive feedback is strongly weighted in favour of the former - too strongly in my opinion. If we can't offer direct and honest advice to help people improve in our community, where else can they receive it? All of us should also be professional enough to heed the advice offered, even if we find it hard to listen to."

Are you asking for and open to honest, genuine, no holds barred feedback from your network on a regular basis? And are you offering it in return? If not, pick up the phone and arrange to meet with the people you trust the most. Ask them for their feedback and let them know that you are there to help them if they choose.