That dreaded F-word


imagesAn eager young author in Alabama, USA received news that made her heart sink: her book submission had been knocked back. But the editor offered some feedback: focus on the childhood of one of the characters.

Most budding authors would have continued plodding away on the same old manuscript, thinking someone else will surely recognise their genius, or even considered giving up writing and trying their hand at something different.

But this determined writer was different. She decided to act on the feedback. She worked for two and half years on the new version, at one point growing so frustrated that she threw the manuscript out the window into the snow. She later retrieved and finished it.

Listening to feedback – and acting on it – would change her destiny and that of book publishing for decades to come. The new book was immediately successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and it has become a classic of modern American literature, selling more than 40 million copies worldwide. The book was To Kill a Mockingbird and the author was Harper Lee.

Imagine if Harper Lee dismissed that vital piece of feedback? There is a belief that a peacock grows its beautiful feathers by eating thorns;  what a powerful frame to use to view feedback.

But not all thorns are equal! Ask for feedback from people you respect and who are masters in your field. Remember, Harper Lee got this feedback from an established book editor. Ask the masters: what you should do differently?

Be totally present and mindful about receiving feedback. This is hard to do as our emotions boil up. Instead, practise being hyper-alert, write the feedback down as you are receiving it and don’t give in to your first impulse, which might be to make excuses, bluster and explain.

Another good strategy is to thank the person and say you will think about what they have said. And if it is valid, for god’s sake, do something about it!

How are you going to turn thorny feedback into beautiful feathers? Please comment – I love hearing from you.

Regards

PS: Just this week we saw a new chapter in publishing history when Harper Lee’s very first novel, (yes the VERY one that was rejected, more that fifty years ago) Go Set a Watchman, became one of the most anticipated publications in history, topping Amazon’s best-seller list for several weeks – even before the book hit the bookshelves on July 14.

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8 Comments
  • Reply

    Loved this piece Yamini. Thanks for sharing. It is important to be receptive to advice and feedback but so many people out there offer advice without much depth. I think deep down, we can sense when advice is genuine and when it isn’t.

  • Linda Gravina
    Reply

    Also very timely for me with mid year reviews upon our global organisation. Thanks so much, I love the back story and the peacock quote! Natalie, not sure if this is answering your total question and its not always this simple, but I think the success of feedback is as much about the giver as the reciever. I always try to put myself in thier shoes, explain the context, ensure the timing and environment is right, make it constructive and tangible, make it holistic including positives and strengths to leverage, as well as opportunities to improve etc etc. Try to get to a point where the reciever really recognises the feedback, owns it and is the one committed to do something about it. In the end taking feedback is a choice – people have to have the maturity to accept it, sift through it and apply it as they see fit. Sometimes its about standing tall and saying ‘well, this is me and so be it, I can live with the consequences’, other times its about facing into a harsh reality that your intent isn’t landing with the desired impact – and thats no way to work or live. I’ve had some doozies over the years (feedback to me that is) and I can honestly say that even the feedback that came to me clumsily was powerful because I was able to find the gem of truth for me, and collectively with other feedback and bits of info, shape my own development. It wasnt easy – i shed tears! How could they say that about me!!! But the old cliche holds true – that which doesnt kill you, makes you stronger!!

    • Yamini Naidu
      Reply

      Linda thank you so much for your response, authenticity and practical advice for Natalie and the rest of us. I often find asking people what they think they could have done better, helps as well and most people have some level of self awareness and honesty, that might set the conversation up for success.
      Thanks again Linda.
      Best wishes
      Yamini

  • Natalie
    Reply

    So timely as just this morning I have started on performance reviews for myself and my team. How can I convince those who don’t want to hear it that feedback is a gift?

    • Yamini Naidu
      Reply

      Hi Natalie
      Ask people how they like to receive feedback. Also ask them what their first response has been in the past to feedback and this is the time for you to share and self disclose as well, a time when the feedback was tough but later turned out to be gift. Most of all it is how the feedback is given, the intent to help the person grow and change. All easy to say and hard to do. Feedback as always contuse to challenge both the giver and the receiver.
      Best wishes
      Yamini

  • George
    Reply

    Great story, Feedback is a gift if someone has taken the time to review your work in a business arena where we are all so time poor embrace it and use it to your advantage

    • Yamini Naidu
      Reply

      Hi George
      So true, but sadly most people don’t view it as a gift, more an attack. So how it’s done and how it is received are critical.
      Best wishes
      Yamini

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