By Johnny Karls, CPCC


For me, it started at 27. I was a student in a “Realize Your Gifts” class. As would seem appropriate, during the 6-week engagement we were to participate in a peer assessment. The assignment was to give this questionnaire to five people--individuals who knew me well and would care for me enough to give honest feedback.


I chose my cohorts carefully, truly seeking both confirmation of what I already knew and perhaps an insignificant blind spot or two. My trusted feedback-providers filled out a multiple-choice questionnaire along with a single page of written answers.


The time came when the aggregated feedback was given to me. I remember as if it were yesterday. As I read the first assessment it was obvious that there was a distribution mistake: this was clearly about someone else. I went to the second assessment - the answers were very similar to the first, but again, it couldn’t have been my assessment. The third document the same, and so forth. And then it hit me: these were about me! What?


"It's not what you know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."                                                                                                                                  Mark Twain


I was shocked twofold, first at how I was perceived and second that I had been so unaware. Some of the feedback was disappointing, although much of it was surprisingly positive and encouraging. Here’s the point: That day changed my life because it was then that I deeply realized the value of receiving feedback. I learned that without others’ perspectives, I’m just living a fictitious reality.


Since then, I have participated in several similar assessments. Because of awareness and a commitment to continued improvement, the feedback has gotten better (and less surprising) over the years. I’ve come a long way, baby…and I’ve got a long way to go. The truth really can set you free.


Recently I was leading a workshop with a similar theme. I asked the group of sales people, “If there were an obvious trait that you didn’t realize about yourself, but that your colleagues could clearly see, would you want to know?” After giving a moment for reflection I randomly chose a person and rhetorically asked, “Frank, would you want to know?” A wise-guy in the group quickly blurted, “There are plenty of things that Frank needs to know.” Laughter. The opportunity was perfect. I said to the unsuspecting patsy, “Steve, did you realize you’ve been clicking your pen non-stop for the past 20 minutes and everybody in the room wants to put your hand in a paper shredder?” The group response: pure joy that somebody outed the annoying pen guy! Awareness is the beginning of change. With awareness we then have choices.


Let me suggest 5 ways constructive feedback could be a huge advantage to your life. We’ll call these benefits C.H.E.A.P. Here’s what you’ll get:


1) Clarity – If you don’t know the truth, how can you improve?

2) Humility – You should be prepared for some hard, uncomfortable truth; but remember, having weaknesses does not make you weak. We’ve all got them so get over it!

3) Encouragement – You will also learn more about strengths you didn’t know you had, which can be extremely encouraging.  

4) Approachability – Influence begins with relationship. People that are open to feedback tend to be safe and trustworthy.

5) Power – All of this leads to power. The power to influence is in direct correlation with one’s willingness to receive feedback.


Receiving honest feedback-and utilizing it appropriately-may be the easiest, most powerful thing you can do to maximize your impact. Be that person who seeks and receives feedback well.