Let's Get Critical

Constructive feedback can be a big boost for your business.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the August 2008 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Peggy was in the midst of developing a unique fashion accessory that could be worn as a necklace, belt or bracelet. To solidify her design, she invited business colleagues to preview her product along with its proposed instructions and packaging. Almost everyone praised her effort; however, the owner of a local jewelry store kept avoiding her.

Peggy approached the owner to inquire about his reaction to the accessory and explained that his opinion was integral to her success. The store owner shared his concern that the product's instructions were a little confusing; he didn't understand how it could be quickly altered for different uses. Peggy asked how she could make the instructions easier to understand, and the store owner recommended putting pictures next to the directions so customers could see how easily the invention transformed. Thanks to the store owner's valuable advice, Peggy was able to implement the change and vastly improve the salability of her product.

Most of us are reluctant to provide feedback because we're taught to be polite and supportive of other people's ideas. We might even feel that if we share our ideas, we're giving people additional work. But constructive feedback is a great way for entrepreneurs--and those associated with us--to achieve even greater success. To encourage feedback, you have to be comfortable giving and receiving it.

  1. Start with a conversation, not a formal evaluation. When providing or receiving feedback, your goal is to have discussions where thoughts, criticism and opinions are shared freely. Keep it casual; being too formal can intimidate some people by putting them on the defensive. A short, direct conversation with a personal touch can reveal the unique insights and suggestions you're looking for.
  2. Establish what's at stake. Tell people what the basis of your challenge is, and identify the impact feedback will have on your business. Establishing a clear motive for seeking feedback personalizes your request, allows others to better understand the situation and stimulates creative thinking. Being specific also makes people more comfortable providing alternative points of view.
  3. Remain open-minded. When giving feedback, remind people that you're helping them find a solution. After stating your recommendations, give them the opportunity to clarify the situation and formulate their own opinions. Ask questions to show that you are interested and encourage further conversation. Generously offer them any pointers or advice you deem suitable, and in return, they will gladly contribute their ideas when you ask for feedback.
  4. Share the "big picture" effects on your business. When you make others feel as if they've positively contributed to your success, they're inspired to help you even further. Be sure to thank people for the feedback they shared, and tell them how it contributed to your company's expansion. Showing appreciation helps extend the feedback conversation and inspires the sharing of additional strategies.
  5. Integrate feedback into your normal business processes. Constructive feedback can save you time and effort in taking your business to the next level. Rather than waiting for the perfect time to offer critiques, create opportunities for feedback. For instance, provide surveys with each shipment of a new product so your customers can easily send you their ideas. And continually capitalize on all feedback that can improve your business and your professional relationships.

Romanus Wolter, aka "The Kick Start Guy," is author of Kick Start Your Success and Kick Start Your Dream Business. Write to him at romanus@kickstartguy.com.


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