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I used to work with a guy I’ll call Barry. (Not his real name—his real name was Sam.) Barry showed up to an interview with the boss carrying his trophies and plaques in his suitcase. He placed them on his desk before the meeting started. Barry was a skilled presenter, but he wasn’t interested in improvement.

Barry was his own worst enemy. When his sales went down, his excuses went up. He spent more time defending his lack of sales than it would have taken to learn more about his product and market. When offered coaching, Barry pointed to his awards and said he didn’t need any. Soon, Barry’s trophies were a relic of a decade that had long past. As the expression goes, nothing recedes like success.

When someone doesn’t accept valuable feedback, that person cannot grow. Eventually Barry’s complaints about everything from the lamb chops he ate last night to the company’s lack of training destroyed his relationships, and his chance at growth.

Brain science tells us that Feedback is critical to success. Without it you cannot achieve new levels of performance. It makes sense.

To move past your current limits, you must know how what you’re doing wrong, and especially what you’re doing right.

But unfortunately, many salespeople let their ego get in the way of their growth, and many sales mentors, well, have never learned the art and science of giving effective feedback.

Four Rules to Giving and Accepting Feedback

#1: Make certain that the person who’s giving you the feedback understands what you’re trying to accomplish. Think about the iconic quote from Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird: “You never really understand a man until you see things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Don’t assume that the person giving you feedback will automatically know what you want to achieve. Letting him or her know a bit about your goals will help ensure you get the right feedback.

#2: Seek out someone who can give you constructive feedback. This is hard. No one likes being told what they did wrong. The person who offers feedback is wise to first tell you what you did right. By hearing the good stuff first, our brains will be more receptive to the areas where we need to improve. In fact, a Harvard Business review study confirms that individuals who receive at least a 6-1 ratio of positive-to-negative advice significantly outperform those who are more often criticized. In short, find a mentor who gently tells you how to improve and who recognizes your strengths.

#3: Only focus on a maximum of three things at a time. The brain can’t possibly remember 36 new things to incorporate into a sales presentation. In golf, there’s an expression called the “swing thought.” The idea is that when you’re about to make an important shot, you don’t have time to remember 12 different things. So a good swing coach will offer just one thing to recall, and that one key piece of guidance triggers all the other things you know to do. Same thing in sales.

#4: Feedback must be specific. In seminars I’ve taught around the world, I’ve heard countless salespeople proclaim that they want to be more successful. What does that mean? It obviously means different things to different people. To some, success might be earning $25,000 per month and buying a new BMW. To others it may mean getting a promotion, having time to do charity work, or spending more time with family. Again, being clear about what you’re trying to achieve will help you get the specific feedback you need.

Whether you’re a skier, author, salesperson or parent, research shows that positive, immediate and constructive feedback will help you understand what you’re doing well and what you’re doing poorly so you can practice, repeat, and master your best behavior.

Otherwise, you’re just grooving bad habits deeper into your brain until you can do a terrible job without even having to think about it!

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