When was the last time you received negative feedback? For many companies and their leaders, the sound of criticism on the breeze has become a rare experience indeed.
Take Amazon as an example. Over the years, the behemoth retailer has had no shortage of criticism about the way its employees are treated or lowly paid.
Who can forget the allegations by some of its UK employees who reported being forced to urinate in bottles due to a strict break policy?
So when Amazon increased its minimum wage to $15 per hour for all U.S. employees in 2018, the news of it caught my attention. Well, not just the news but something Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, actually said about the change in pay policy:
“We listened to our critics, thought hard about what we wanted to do, and decided we want to lead.”
The leadership lesson
The leadership lesson in that statement can be summed up in the first five words: We listened to our critics.
Think about it: How many of us as leaders are willing to stand back and take negative feedback? And then move to action — even if it may not be the most popular decision?
Bezos took the higher road. He absorbed the impact of immense negative feedback from his worst critics and assessed and reassessed the situation before pulling the trigger to make the right choice.
While negative feedback can feel painful and even like an attack, great leaders understand the necessity of it. There are four clear reasons why leaders should put this idea into practice:
1. It helps address blind spots.
Nobody is perfect. The best thing about taking negative feedback is that it challenges your self-limiting perspectives and calls your blind spots to the carpet. That’s why you need negative feedback: it forces you to understand the perspective of others, which may be the right ones. And this strategy increases your self-awareness, an essential component of growing as a leader.
2. It brings you closer to the truth.
Being open and humble enough to receive honest feedback — even the kind you may not want to hear — helps you to uncover the truth around a certain issue so that solutions to problems are solved faster. So if feedback hurts, that normally means it’s true and you’re on the right path. This may be your greatest area for potential improvement.
3. It’s an opportunity to learn.
Some criticism can feel brutal and off-base especially if delivered as a flame-throwing personal attack. When delivered constructively from someone you respect, however, look at it as an opportunity to learn. The first thing you should say is thank you to your critic for speaking up. This frames the feedback as a gift. It puts both you and the other person in a constructive frame of mind.
4. It moves you to action.
Putting it all together with a high degree of emotional intelligence, the next step to receiving the criticism, as Jeff Bezos did with raising the minimum wage at Amazon, is to take the information to make the business better, boost your personal performance, or improve your relationships with your colleagues.
Indeed, a lack of negative criticism is often the best evidence that things aren’t going well. In any case, it is hard to build and improve your workplace or your business if nobody ever lets you know how you’re doing.