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Business people talking about feedback

Feedback is Not Always a Gift

Unsolicited feedback is meant only for the benefit of the person who gives it and never for the person to whom it is given. I pay it no heed. Neither should you. 

The CEO of a major global technology device company for both business and consumers asked me to give a keynote address to his executive leadership team during a retreat, where I was also asked to lead a strategy development session. The vice president of strategy later asked to meet with me one-on-one for a debrief following the retreat. 

“Would you like some feedback on your keynote?” he asked. I didn’t, but I knew nothing would stop him from giving it to me short of a magnitude ten earthquake suddenly striking the heart of Tokyo.

“Your keynote was the least popular of all the activities we did at the retreat,” he said without a hint of emotion, and he even had the data to prove it. He flipped through a series of PowerPoint slides with survey results from every scheduled activity pointing at the hard data on what the participants enjoyed and what they did not really care for—from the initial dinner and drinking the first night to the financial overview the CFO had presented. 

The first night’s dinner and drinking scored high marks. However, the CFO’s presentation of the previous year’s lackluster results and the austerity measures that were to be imposed during the coming one, not so much. Yet, my keynote scored even lower than her presentation.

“You see!” the vice president said triumphantly pointing at the data. “No one liked your keynote!”

Actually, the vice president was mistaken. One person did like my keynote—the CEO, and I know this because he told me. The CEO was not part of the survey, but he did make sure I got paid. That’s feedback I take seriously.

Now, I don’t know for sure what made my keynote so unpopular, but I can take a pretty good guess. I mystery-shopped the company’s products prior to the retreat and talked about my experience—an idea I had proposed to the CEO in advance—an idea he liked a lot. 

So during the keynote, I talked about how one of the company’s most touted premium products was unavailable at Yodobashi Camera’s flagship store in a section devoted to my client’s line-up. A disinterested clerk merely walked away from me after I had asked about it, not bothering to check if what I wanted could be back-ordered. 

When I called the company’s call center that handles direct sales, an operator told me the product would take at least sixteen weeks for delivery. When I asked him to suggest an alternative product from the company’s line-up, of which there were at least a few comparable ones, he quizzed me about my technical requirements. I feigned not to understand technical specs, mimicking a consumer on the slightly less tech-savvy side—hardly uncommon. The operator not once bothered asking me how I wanted to use the product so he might point me in the direction of an appropriate model. The call ended with no sale and a perplexed customer—me. 

During the keynote, I asked the group of executives how many tens of millions of dollars in sales opportunity of what are in fact excellent products they thought the company might be losing monthly simply because of the way their customers are treated. No one answered, but I did not need an answer. The question was rhetorical.

Gifts are meant to benefit those to whom you give them, and in that respect, feedback can be a gift. Click To Tweet

Did the vice president of strategy offer me his feedback as a gift? I doubt it, but it sure seemed to make him feel a whole lot better. I felt no guilt in ignoring it. 

There are some “gifts” you ought to refuse.


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