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What Air Jordan can teach us about embracing feedback…

Last Updated:

March 22, 2024

Table of Contents

Did You Know? with Gorick is the official newsletter of Gorick Ng, Harvard career adviser and Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules. Each week, you’ll receive one story from the past, one study from the present, and one strategy for your future.

My goal: to give you—in the time it takes to finish on the toilet—one piece of practical career wisdom you can apply today, no matter if you’re a student or a seasoned professional.

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Did You Know? Feedback is your friend!

A story from the past

The year is 1989. NBA star player Michael “Air” Jordan of the Chicago Bulls was just pulled aside by coach Phil Jackson in a private meeting and told: Score fewer baskets, not more.

“You’ve got to share the spotlight with your teammates,” Jackson urged. Jordan, already recognized as an MVP (Most Valuable Player), could have easily rejected the idea. 

But Jordan was receptive. Fast forward and the Chicago Bulls went on to win three consecutive championships not once, but twice—elevating “Air Jordan” to record-breaking heights.

So, the next time you feel your blood boiling from a piece of critical feedback, remember Jordan, who embraced criticism—and became a legend. 

Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson (via Wikipedia Creative Commons)

A study of the present

Not all of us can be “Air Jordan,” but all of us can learn from his openness to feedback. In March of this year, researchers at Harvard, the University of Iowa, and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that engineers who worked in person beside their teammates received 21% more feedback on their code than engineers who worked remotely.

What does this data suggest? Working remotely may save you a commute, but it could also limit your career. Economist Natalia Emanuel adds, “Junior [and younger] engineers… are the ones who really benefit from [being] in person.”

So what? If you work remotely, you can compensate for your physical absence by being extra proactive about offering to help and asking for feedback. And if you work in person, you aren’t exempt from stepping up, even if you do benefit from proximity bias. As Jordan showed us, feedback is your friend, whether you’re in the office, at home, or on the court.

A strategy for your future

Last week, 67% of you told me that you are receiving "less" or "a lot less" feedback than you'd prefer. What can you do if you’re a member of the 67%?

Try this:

1. Want general feedback? Try saying, “Thinking back to ______, what would you suggest that I start doing, stop doing, and keep doing?”

2. Want specific feedback? Try saying, “For ______, I feel like I could have done a better job of ______. Am I thinking about this the right way? What advice do you have for how I can ______ going forward?”

3. Just received a piece of feedback? Try saying, “Super helpful—thank you! Let me write this down… Next time, I will ______ and ______. Did I get this right?”

Not all feedback will be useful feedback, but some will be. Embrace it when it comes.

I know it because I’ve experienced it: Had I not been receptive to my manager’s feedback to "take ownership,” I would have never gotten the inspiration to write all about it in The Unspoken Rules.

Keep progressing!