Use Feedback to Your Advantage

By Jack Canfield – Excerpt from The Success Principles: How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be

Feedback is the breakfast of champions.
– Ken Blanchard & Spencer Johnson
Co-authors of The One Minute Manager

Once you begin to take action, you’ll start getting feedback about whether you’re doing the right thing. You’ll get data, advice, help, suggestions, direction, and even criticism that will help you constantly adjust and move forward while continually enhancing your knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and relationships. But asking for feedback is really only the first part of the equation. Once you receive feedback, you have to be willing to respond to it.desk people


There are two kinds of feedback you might encounter – negative and positive. We tend to prefer the positive – that is, results, money, praise, a raise, a promotion, satisfied customers, awards, happiness, inner peace, intimacy, pleasure. It feels better. It tells us that we are on course, that we are doing the right thing.

We tend not to like negative feedback – lack of results, little or no money, criticism, poor evaluations, being passed over for a raise or a promotion, complaints, unhappiness, inner conflict, loneliness, pain. However, there is as much useful data in negative feedback as there is in positive feedback. It tells us that we are off course, headed in the wrong direction, doing the wrong thing. That is also valuable information.

In fact, it’s so valuable that one of the most useful projects you could undertake is to change how you feel about negative feedback. I like to refer to negative feedback as information about “improvement opportunities.” The world is telling me where and how I can improve what I am doing. Here is a place I can get better. Here is where I can correct my behavior to get even closer to what I say I want — more money, more sales, a promotion, a better relationship, better grades, or more success on the athletic field.

To reach your goals more quickly, you need to welcome, receive and embrace all the feedback that comes your way.


There are many ways to respond to feedback, some of which work (they take you closer to your stated objectives), and some of which don’t (they keep you stuck or take you even further from your goals).

When I conduct trainings on the success principles, I illustrate this point by asking for a volunteer from the audience to stand at the far side of the room. The volunteer represents the goal I want to reach. My task is to walk across the room to where he is standing. If I get to where he is standing, I have successfully reached my goal.

I instruct the volunteer to act as a constant feedback-generating machine. Every time I take a step, he is to say “On course” if I am walking directly toward him and “Off course” if I am walking even the slightest bit off to either side.

Then I begin to walk very slowly toward the volunteer. Every time I take a step directly toward him, the volunteer says, “On course.” Every few steps, I purposely veer off course, and the volunteer says, “Off course.” I immediately correct my direction. Every few steps, I veer off course again and then correct again in response to his “Off course” feedback. After a lot of zigzagging, I eventually reach my goal … and give the person a hug for volunteering.

I ask the audience to tell me which the volunteer had said more often – “On course” or “Off course.” The answer is always “Off course.” And here is the interesting part. I was off course more than I was on course, and I still got there … just by continually taking action and constantly adjusting to the feedback. The same is true in life. All we have to do is to start to take action and then respond to the feedback. If we do that diligently enough and long enough, we will eventually get to our goals and achieve our dreams.


Though there are many ways you can respond to feedback, some responses simply don’t work:

  1. Caving in and quitting: As part of the seminar exercise I described above, I will repeat the process of walking toward my goal; however, in this round I will purposely veer off blindfolded bizmancourse, and when my volunteer keeps repeating “Off course” over and over, I break down and cry, “I can’t take it anymore. Life is too hard. I can’t take all this negative criticism. I quit!”  How many times have you or someone you know received negative feedback and simply caved in over it? All that does is keep you stuck in the same place. It’s easier not to cave in when you receive feedback if you remember that feedback is simply information. Think of it as correctional guidance instead of criticism. Think of the automatic pilot system on an airplane. The system is constantly telling the plane that it has gone too high, too low, too far to the right, or too far to the left. The plane just keeps correcting in response to the feedback it is receiving. It doesn’t all of a sudden freak out and break down because of the relentless flow of feedback. Stop taking feedback so personally. It is just information designed to help you adjust and get to your goal a whole lot faster.
  2. Getting mad at the source of the feedback: Once again, I will begin walking toward the other end of the room while purposely veering off course, causing the volunteer to say “Off course” over and over. This time I put one hand on my hip, stick out my chin, point my finger, and yell, “Bitch, bitch, bitch! All you ever do is criticize me! You’re so negative. Why can’t you ever say anything positive?” Think about it. How many times have you reacted with anger and hostility toward someone who was giving you feedback that was genuinely useful? All it does is push the person and the feedback away.
  3. Ignoring the feedback: For my third demonstration, imagine me putting my fingers in my ears and determinedly walking off course. The volunteer might be saying “Off course, off course,” but I can’t hear anything because my fingers are in my ears. Not listening to or ignoring the feedback is another response that doesn’t work. We all know people who tune out everyone’s point of view but their own. They are simply not interested in what other people think. They don’t want to hear anything anyone else has to say. The sad thing is, feedback could significantly transform their lives, if only they would only listen.

So, as you can see, when someone gives you feedback, there are three possible reactions that don’t work: (1) crying, falling apart, caving in, and giving up; (2) getting angry at the source of the feedback; and (3) not listening to or ignoring the feedback.

Crying and falling apart is simply ineffective. It may temporarily release whatever emotions you have built up in your system, but it takes you out of the game. It doesn’t get you anywhere. It simply immobilizes you. Not a great success strategy! Caving in and giving up doesn’t work either. It may make you feel safer and may stop the flow of “negative” feedback, but it doesn’t get you the good stuff! You can’t win in the game of life if you are not on the playing field!

Getting angry at the person giving you the feedback is equally ineffective! It just makes the source of the valuable feedback attack you back or simply go away. What good is that? It may temporarily make you feel better, but it doesn’t help you get more successful.

On the third day of my advanced seminar, when, everyone knows everybody else pretty well, I have the whole group (about 40 people) stand up, mill around, and ask as many people as possible the following question: “How do you see me limiting myself?” After doing this for 30 minutes, people sit down and record what they have heard. You’d think that this would be hard to listen to for 30 minutes, but it is such valuable feedback that people are actually grateful for the opportunity to become aware of their limiting behaviors and replace them with successful behaviors. Everyone then develops an action plan for transcending their limiting behavior.

Remember, feedback is simply information. You don’t have to take it personally. Just welcome it and use it. The most intelligent and productive response is to say, “Thank you for the feedback. Thank you for caring enough to take the time to tell me what you see and how you feel. I appreciate it.”


Most people will not voluntarily give you feedback. They are as uncomfortable with possible confrontation as you are. They don’t want to hurt your feelings. They are afraid of your reaction. They don’t want to risk your disapproval. So to get honest and open feedback, you are going to need to ask for it … and make it safe for the person to give it to you. In other words, don’t shoot the messenger.

A powerful question to ask family members, friends, and colleagues is “How do you see me limiting myself?” You might think that the answers would be hard to listen to, but most people find the information so valuable that they are grateful for what people tell them. Armed with this new feedback, they can create a plan of action for replacing their limiting behaviors with more effective and productive behaviors.


In the 1980s, a multimillionaire businessman taught me a question that radically changed the quality of my life. If the only thing you get out of reading this book is the consistent questionmkheaduse of this question in your personal and business life, it will have been worth the money and time you have invested. So what is this magical question that can improve the quality of every relationship you are in, every product you produce, every service you deliver, every meeting you conduct, every class you teach, and every transaction you enter into? Here it is:

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the quality of our relationship (service/product) during the last week (2 weeks/month/quarter/semester/season)?

Here are a number of variations on the same question that have served me well over the years:

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the meeting we just had? me as a manager? me as a parent? me as a teacher? this class? this meal? my cooking? our sex life? this deal? this book?

Any answer less than a 10 gets the follow-up question:

What would it take to make it a 10?

This is where the valuable information comes from. Knowing that a person is dissatisfied is not enough. Knowing in detail what will satisfy them gives you the information you need to do what is necessary to create a winning product, service, or relationship.

Make it a habit to end every project, meeting, class, training, consultation and installation with the two questions.


I ask my wife these same two questions every Sunday night. Here is a typical scenario:

“How would you rate the quality of our relationship this past week?”
“What would it take to make it a ten?”
“Put the kids to bed without me having to remind you that it’s time to do it. Come in for dinner on time or call me and tell me you are going to be late. I hate sitting here waiting and wondering. Let me finish a joke I am telling without interrupting and taking over because you think you can tell it better. Put your dirty laundry in the clothes hamper instead of in a pile on the floor.”

I also ask my assistants this question every Friday afternoon. Here is one response I received from Deborah early on in her employment:

“Whoa! What would it take to make it a ten?”
“We were supposed to have a meeting this week to go over my quarterly review, but it got pushed aside by other matters. It makes me feel unimportant and that you don’t care about me as much as the other people around here. I need to talk to you about a lot of things, and I feel really discounted. The other thing is that I feel that you are not using me enough. You are not delegating anything but the simple stuff to me. I want more responsibility. I want you to trust me more with the important stuff. I need more of a challenge. This job has become boring and uninteresting to me. I need more of a challenge, or I am not going to make it here.”

This was not easy to hear, but it was true and it led to two wonderful results. It helped me delegate more “important stuff” to her and thus cleared my plate, giving me more free time – and it also created a happier assistant who was able to serve me and the company better.


Most people are afraid to ask for corrective feedback because they are afraid of what they are going to hear. There is nothing to be afraid of. The truth is the truth. You are better off knowing the truth than not knowing the truth. Once you know it, you can do something about it. You cannot fix what you don’t know is broken. You cannot improve your life, your relationships, your game, or your performance without feedback.

But what’s the worst part of this avoidance approach to life? You are the only one who is not in on the secret. The other person has usually already told their spouse, their friends, their parents, their business associates, and other potential customers what they are dissatisfied with. As we discussed in Principle 1, (“Take 100% Responsibilitybizpeople & tincans
for Your Life”), most people would rather complain than take constructive action to solve their problems. The only problem is that they are complaining to the wrong person. They
should be telling you, but they are unwilling to for fear of your reaction. As a result, you are being deprived of the very thing you need to improve your relationship, your product, your service, your teaching, or your parenting. You must do two things to remedy this.

First, you must intentionally and actively solicit feedback. Ask your partner, your friends, your colleagues, your boss, your employees, your clients, your parents, your teachers, your students and your coaches. Use the question frequently. Make it a habit to always ask for corrective feedback. “What can I/we do to make this better? What would it take to make it a ten for you?”

Second, you must be grateful for the feedback. Do not get defensive. Just say, “Thank you for caring enough to share that with me!” If you are truly grateful for the feedback,
you will get a reputation for being open to feedback. Remember, feedback is a gift that helps you be more effective.

Be grateful for it.

Get your head out of the sand and ask, ask, ask! Then check in with yourself to see what fits for you, and put the useful feedback into action. Take whatever steps are
necessary to improve the situation – including changing your own behavior.

A few years ago, our company discontinued using a printer because another one offered us better service for a lower price. About 4 months later, our original printer
called and said, “I’ve noticed you haven’t used me for any printing lately. What would it take for you to start giving me your printing business again?”

I replied, “Lower prices, on-time turnaround, and pickup and delivery. If you can guarantee us those three things. I’ll give you a small portion of our printing and try you again.” Eventually, he won back most of our printing because he beat other people’s prices, picked up and delivered, finished on time, and provided more than acceptable quality. Because he asked the question “What would it take…,” he got the information he needed to ensure his ongoing success with us.


One of the best-selling weight-loss books ever published was the book, Thin Thighs in 30 Days. What’s so interesting about it, though, is that it was developed solely using
feedback. The author, Wendy Stehling, worked in an advertising agency but hated her job. She wanted to start her own agency but didn’t have the money to do so. She knew
booksshe would need about $100,000, so she began asking, “What’s the quickest way to raise $100,000?”

Sell a book, said the feedback.

She decided if she wrote a book that could sell 100,000 copies in 90 days – and she made $1 per book – she would raise the $100,000 she needed. But what kind of book would 100,000 people want? “Well, what are the bestselling books in America?” she asked.

Weight loss books, said the feedback.
“Yes, but how would I distinguish myself as an expert?” she asked.
Ask other women, said the feedback.
So she went out to the marketplace and asked, “If you could lose weight in only one part of your body, what part would you choose?” The overwhelming response from women was My thighs.

“When would you want to lose it?” she asked.

Around April or May, in time for swimsuit season, said the feedback. So what did she do? She wrote a book called Thin Thighs in 30 Days and released it April 15. By June, she had her $100,000 – all because she asked people what they wanted and responded to the feedback by giving it to them.


Virginia Satir, the author of the classic parenting book, Peoplemaking, was probably the most successful and famous family therapist that ever lived.

During her long and illustrious career, she was hired by the Michigan State Department of Social Services to provide a proposal on how to revamp and restructure the Department of Social Services so it would serve the client population better. Sixty days later, she provided the department with a 150-page report, which they said was the most amazing piece of work they had ever seen. “This is brilliant!” they gushed. “How did you come up with all these ideas?”

She replied, “Oh, I just went out to all the social workers in your system and I asked them what it would take for the system to work better.”


Human beings were given a left foot and a right foot to make a mistake first to the left, then to the right, left again and repeat.
– Buckminster Fuller, Engineer, inventor and philosopher

Whether we ask or not, feedback comes to us in various forms. It might come verbally from a colleague. Or it might be a letter from the government. It might be the bank refusing listening bizmenyour loan. Or it could be a special opportunity that comes your way because of a specific step you took.

Whatever it is, it’s important to listen to the feedback. Simply take a step … and listen. Take another step and listen. If you hear “Off course,” take a step in a direction you believe may be on course … and listen. Listen externally to what others may be telling you, but also listen internally to what your body, your feelings, and your instincts may be telling you.

Is your mind and body saying, “I’m happy; I like this; this is the right job for me,” or “I’m weary; I’m emotionally drained; I don’t like this as much as I thought; I don’t have a good feeling about that guy”?

Whatever feedback you get, don’t ignore the yellow alerts. Never go against your gut. If it doesn’t feel right to you, it probably isn’t.


Not all feedback is useful or accurate. You must consider the source. Some feedback is polluted by the psychological distortions of the person giving you the feedback. For example, if your drunk husband tells you, “You are a no-good bleep,” that is probably not accurate or useful feedback. The fact that your husband is drunk and angry, however, is feedback you should listen to.


Additionally, you should look for patterns in the feedback you get. As my friend Jack Rosenblum likes to say: “If one person tells you you’re a horse, they’re crazy. If three people tell you you’re a horse, there’s a conspiracy afoot. If ten people tell you you’re a horse, it’s time to buy a saddle.”

The point is that if several people are telling you the same thing, there is probably some truth in it. Why resist it? You may think you get to be right, but the question you have to ask yourself is “Would I rather be right or be happy? Would I rather be right or be successful?”

I have a friend who would rather be right than be happy and successful. He got mad at anyone who tried to give him feedback. “Don’t you talk to me that way, young lady.”
“Don’t tell me how to run my business. This is my business and I’ll run it the way I want to.” “I don’t give a hoot what you think.” He was a “my way or the highway” person. He wasn’t interested in anyone else’s opinion or feedback. In the process, he alienated his wife, his two daughters, his clients and all his employees. He ended up with two divorces, kids who didn’t want to speak to him and two bankrupt businesses. But he was “right.” So be it, but don’t you get caught in this trap. It is a dead-end street.

What feedback have you been receiving from your family, friends, members of the opposite sex, coworkers, boss, partners, clients, vendors and your body that you need to pay more attention to? Are there any patterns that stand out? Make a list, and next to each item, write an action step you can take to get back on course.


When all indicators say you’ve had a “failure experience,” there are a number of things you can do to respond appropriately and keep moving forward:

  1. Acknowledge you did the best you could with the awareness, knowledge, and skills you had at the time.
  2. Acknowledge that you survived and that you can absolutely cope with any and all of the consequences or results.
  3. Write down everything you learned from the experience. Write all of your insights and lessons down in a file in your computer or a journal called Insights and Lessons. missing the targetRead through this file often. Ask others involved – your family, team, employees, clients, and others – what they learned. I often have my staff write “I learned that . . .” at the top of a piece of paper and then write as much, as they can think of in a 5-minute period. Then we make a list under the heading of “Ways to Do It Better Next Time.”
  4. Make sure to thank everyone for their feedback and their insights. If someone is hostile in the delivery of their feedback, remember that it is an expression of their level of fear, not your level of incompetence or unlovability. Again, just thank them for their feedback. Explaining, justifying, and blaming are all a waste of everybody’s time. Just take in the feedback, use whatever is applicable and valuable for the future, and discard the rest.
  5. Clean up any messes that have been created and deliver any communications that are necessary to complete the experience – including any apologies or regrets that are due. Do not try to hide the failure.
  6. Take some time to go back and review your successes. It’s important to remind yourself that you have had many more successes than you have had failures. You’ve done many more things right than you’ve done wrong.
  7. Regroup. Spend some time with positive loving friends, family and coworkers who can reaffirm your worth and your contribution.
  8. Refocus your vision. Incorporate the lessons learned, recommit to your original plan, or create a new plan of action, and then get on with it. Stay in the game. Keep moving toward the fulfillment of your dreams. You’re going to make a lot of mistakes along the way. Dust yourself off, get back on your horse, and keep riding.

Excerpted from The Success Principles; How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (TM) by Jack Canfield. To order your copy, visit our website Permission is needed from Jack Canfield to reproduce any portion provided in this excerpt from his book.

Permission is needed from Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2014 

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