“Honesty is a very expensive gift; just don’t expect it from cheap people” – Warren Buffet
During your career, there will multiple occasions where you will have the opportunity get feedback, good and bad. Sometimes people will ask you if you want it; other times feedback can arrive unsolicited.
Whenever and however you receive honest and open feedback, you should consider it a valuable gift. As Warren Buffet has said: “Honesty is a very expensive gift; just don’t expect it from cheap people.”
What did he mean by this?
The point is that it can be very easy to act defensively when someone gives you feedback, particularly when it isn’t flattering. You might think that the person doesn’t like you or is against you in some way. But it’s actually the opposite: if a person is willing to offer you honest feedback, that means they really like or even love you!
Think about it: why would anyone waste their valuable time offering you what might sound like harsh feedback if they dislike you? If I care for you, on the other hand, I am much more likely to want to try and help you–even if it’s just letting you know that you have spinach stuck in your teeth. The opposite of love isn’t hate – it’s ambivalence.
That’s why Warren Buffet encourages us to think about feedback as a gift that you welcome with open arms any time someone is willing to offer it.
The more you open yourself up to collecting feedback, the more valuable data you can collect as well. If you hear three people compliment you on the shirt you’re wearing, for instance, then you know that’s probably a good color for you. Along those same lines, if you hear from several people that you say, “you know” or “umm” too much when you speak, then that becomes very valuable feedback you can act on. This is a life skill that can save lots of problems and accelerate you on your path. To be clear, feedback is one data-point and you need to listen to your own counsel – others aren’t always right.
But if you instead present a defensive hard shell to people, where you resist hearing what that might have to say, they will eventually stop giving you feedback. Worse as a leader, you will have modeled behavior where they won’t be open to hearing feedback themselves.
That can be a real issue as a leader in an organization. The higher you climb in an organization, and the more power you gain over things like raises and bonuses, the more likely it becomes that you will find yourself surrounded by “yes men”–people who will tell you whatever you think you want to hear to curry favor with you. That’s because you trained them you don’t like to hear bad news or criticism.
That’s the kind of insincere and cheap feedback Warren Buffet was talking about. What you want to encourage instead is open and honest feedback and valuable where people are willing to share their thoughts without fear of reprisal.
And you can start that kind of transformation for modeling and demonstrating that behavior yourself by encouraging people to give you honest feedback. While saying something critical to the CEO may be difficult for an employee at first, the key is to get the ball rolling where that kind of behavior becomes the norm.
Along these lines, here are my five rules that I use to help encourage feedback in my organization:
1. Always say, “Yes, please” when someone asks to give you feedback. Don’t miss the opportunity to collect feedback on your actions and behaviors.
2. Listen intently. If someone is willing to give you feedback, don’t interrupt them. Really listen to what they have to say.
3. If you don’t understand the feedback, ask questions until you truly understand what the person is trying to tell you. This isn’t being defensive -it’s seeking to understand. Don’t just nod your head if you don’t understand their point.
4. Maintain an open attitude. Try to open yourself up to the fact that no matter how harsh the feedback might seem, it’s a valuable piece of data.
5. Always thank the person profusely for giving you feedback. When you treat feedback like a gift, and thank whoever gives it to you, you have begun modeling behavior that others will follow.
Always remember: feedback is a gift and you should treat it that way, just like Warren Buffett.