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Why Every Successful Person Thrives on Negative Feedback

Why Every Successful Person Thrives on Negative Feedback

Have you ever made a mistake that could have been avoided if only you’d listened to someone else? We’ve all done it. Even large corporations mess up from time to time.

Take the cautionary tale of Facebook Home. Launched in April 2013, Facebook Home was billed as an application that would change the “look and feel” of a user’s phone. Specifically, it was designed as an app that would transform a user’s default phone screen into a Facebook wrapper. The idea was that users would be able to interact with Facebook any time without having to log in to an app.[1]

    Unfortunately, the app’s creators didn’t recognise that Android phones make extensive use of folders, widgets, and other components that the Facebook team overlooked.

    On the face of it, this seems surprising. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Facebook would have the technical knowledge required to build an app that works for Android. Yet, according to one theory, the team made an embarrassing error that proved to be their undoing. They focused on what would work for devices running iOS, not Android, simply because the team personally used iPhones.[2] Their perception was skewed in one direction only, meaning they overlooked the needs of many customers.

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    Getting feedback isn’t always fun, but is vital

    What could have averted the Facebook Home calamity? Two things would have made all the difference. First, regular testing across iOS and Android systems would have identified problems. Second, Facebook should have collected customer feedback as they developed the app.

    However, humans often have an innate aversion to criticism. We don’t like to be wrong, and even if criticism is constructive, we can experience it as a personal attack. In fact, our fear of criticism can lead us to blame external forces and other people for our mistakes. In other words, we make external attributions. We would rather blame luck, other people’s errors, and circumstances beyond our control rather than face the fact that we have made a mistake.

        In some cases, people become so closed off to outside input that they no longer consider anyone else’s perspective.[3] This often happens to leaders who have already enjoyed a degree of success, and have become overconfident as a result. Their power means that they can shut everyone else down, and fire people who don’t agree with their opinions and decisions. They reject other people’s feedback, and refuse to take criticism on board. This trap is called the Hubris Trap. It may be the biggest, most dangerous obstacle to effective leadership. [4]

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        The cost of avoiding criticism

          Someone who avoids criticism because they want to maintain their self-image as someone who is right risks stunting their personal and professional growth. When we deny personal responsibility and instead blame external factors for our failures, we are letting ourselves off the hook. If you don’t believe that your success lies within your own hands, you won’t be so inclined to put in the effort required to make your projects successful.

          If you don’t seek out criticism and feedback, your product or service is at risk of failure. Even if the product is of high quality, it will never be profitable if no one wants to buy it. It is possible to spend months or years developing a new product, only to see it flop because it has no audience. The consequences can be disastrous.

          Take Facebook Home as an example. Originally, Facebook had planned to charge users $99 for a two-year subscription, but due to a lack of demand, this price dropped to just $0.99 within a few weeks of its release. The company also had to restructure their company. In short, the Facebook Home team made a mistake that cost the company a considerable amount of money and effort.[5]

          Take criticism like an expert

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            Truly successful people know how to accept criticism without taking it as a personal attack. Their self-confidence means that they are comfortable evaluating feedback from others, and deciding whether to act on it. They do this without falling into the trap of assuming that a single negative experience or failure means that they themselves are beyond redemption.

            Get used to anticipating negative feedback

            There will always be someone out there who doesn’t like your work or your approach. The sooner you can get used to the idea that everyone is subjected to criticism and that it’s possible to be criticised and keep your self-esteem intact at the same time, the happier you will be. It’s OK to fail! Give yourself permission to get things wrong every now and then.

            Keeping your ego in check is difficult, but taking an objective look at a piece of criticism or feedback will benefit you in the long run. After all, how will you know where to begin improving yourself or your work otherwise? If you think about it, criticism is useful because it gives you actionable points. For example, “You did so well!” is less helpful than “Your presentation was good, but your speaking voice was a little too high.”

            Be aware though, some criticism is unhelpful. Check out this guide to help you decide whether someone’s feedback is sensible.

            Get feedback quickly

            You should aim to get feedback on your work and ideas as soon as possible. The sooner you get feedback, the sooner you can put things right! The Facebook Home team received feedback, but only after the product was launched. By then, it was too late. Just think of how much money, time and embarrassment they could have saved if they had asked their audience to trial the product before launching it.

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              There isn’t a successful person alive who hasn’t been on the receiving end of criticism at some point. If you are going to commit yourself to a project or business venture, you need to be prepared for negative feedback. However, as long as you know how to accept it, criticism needn’t hold you back. In fact, it can be the best gift you ever get!

              Featured photo credit: Freepik via freepik.com

              Reference

              More by this author

              Leon Ho

              Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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              Last Updated on July 17, 2019

              The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

              The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

              What happens in our heads when we set goals?

              Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

              Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

              According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

              Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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              Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

              Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

              The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

              Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

              So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

              Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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              One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

              Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

              Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

              The Neurology of Ownership

              Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

              In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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              But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

              This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

              Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

              The Upshot for Goal-Setters

              So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

              On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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              It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

              On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

              But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

              More About Goals Setting

              Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

              Reference

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