Are You Wearing the Emperor's New Clothes? Six Questions for Improving Your Results

We are all familiar with the Hans Christian Anderson story of the emperor who thought that he was arrayed in magnificent attire when in reality he was naked. And no one would tell him what was obvious to everyone.

Years ago, I was doing some work for one of the premiere greeting card companies in the country. I was assigned to a creative team to help them improve their ability to speak respectfully and candidly with each other. During our meeting, I was informed that we would be interrupted for about half an hour by the presentation of a creative designer who was seeking approval for his designs for a new greeting card line. I was told that I could attend or be excused. I chose to attend.

After the presentation concluded and the designer left, I said something like this to the group, “I am sorry if I am not a critic of design or art, but did you really like the artist’s designs?” “Why do you ask?” The team leader queried. “Because I thought his designs were horrid. I would never buy a card like that!” I responded. Everyone chuckled and began to look at the floor.

One by one everyone agreed with my assessment of the artist’s designs. When I asked them why they hadn’t been honest with the artist, they responded with, “Well we really try and not offend the creative types around here. After all, we wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.” I then offered that by not being honest and providing helpful feedback, the person would not have the opportunity to change, grow, and improve upon his work. This was the first glimpse of the challenge that I would face in helping them change their culture. The artist had left wearing the emperor’s new clothes; he was metaphorically naked and oblivious to that that his art work was unacceptable and would never be approved.   

This situation has made me wonder how often we are like the emperor who wore nothing as he paraded around town because no one wanted to tell him what should have been obvious. When we don’t receive necessary feedback, we miss the opportunity to improve and satisfy our customers, no matter who they may be.     

Here are six questions to help you determine if you are not receiving the feedback you need to improve your performance.

Do you seek feedback?

We usually don’t go out of our way to seek feedback from others. We assume that no news is good news, so we miss the opportunity to seek the feedback from those who have a different perspective than we do, which might help us improve.

Do others take the initiative to provide you feedback?

This question speaks to your approachability. If people feel like there might be negative consequences for speaking up or if the information will be rebuffed or fall on deaf ears, they will not make the attempt. If your friends, direct reports, or colleagues are willing to offer you their insight and perspective, why would you not want to capitalize upon those insights and expertise to improve your performance and work product? If you have never asked for their input, then they probably assume that you do not want to hear what they have to say. Or, if they have tried in the past only to be rejected, perhaps their perception is that you are not open to the feedback they have to offer.  Whatever the situation, you miss a valuable opportunity.

What messages are constantly being sent to you?

I am a strong believer that the environment is constantly sending us messages. Our clients send us messages. Our people send us messages. Our bodies send us messages about our health. Our family members send us messages about our relationships. Our managers send us messages. We are bombarded by messages every day, but we often miss those messages because we are preoccupied with our own perspectives, or we ignore them altogether. Start noticing which messages seem to repeat themselves, and you will begin to notice things you may have missed in the past. Feedback does you no good if you can’t recognize the messages that are being sent.

Is there an absence of feedback until the results you receive are not what was wanted or expected?

If this is the case, you have to discover ways in which you can receive feedback much sooner than when you are currently receiving it. Waiting for your results to obtain feedback wastes time and resources. Before a crash, it is likely that someone recognizes that a course of action is doomed to failure. Asking others to collaborate on a course of action should help you to expand or correct your perspective. Learning to accept disagreement as a gift of understanding that there are other perspectives should help you improve the quality of your results.

Why do you continue to receive the same results?

This question should help you focus on the steps you are executing that are delivering your current results or lack of results. Taking the time to identify what is not contributing to the results you want should help you make course corrections that will help to achieve different results. 

You might have to look a little deeper to answer this question. You know that your results are created by your thinking. You might reflect upon the broadcast message you are sending. What you think, the feelings you exude, the words you use, and actions that you take all deliver messages that create your results. Taking the time for self-reflection will help you understand how you are creating your results. 

What do you think you know or what do you need to know to change your results?

Sometimes what you think you know may keep you from discovering what you need to know in order to change your results. Make a simple list of what you know, then follow it up with a list of what you don’t know, and you may begin to identify what you need to know. The challenge is to discover the knowledge that will help you to be more successful.

 

The quality of your results can be improved by the feedback that you receive. Often we miss the opportunity to seek feedback and gain information that is vital to our success. Sometimes the lack of feedback is impacted by the quality of our relationships or the way in which we treat others. No matter the cause, take the initiative and recognize where you may be lacking and take steps to gain the perspective and expertise of others. Looking for feedback and taking the time to understand the perspective of others will help you improve the quality of your results.  

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