How Ray Dalio dealt with harsh feedback


“Ray — you deserve a “D-” for your performance today … you rambled for 50 minutes … It was obvious to all of us that you did not prepare at all because there is no way you could have been that disorganized at the outset if you had prepared. We told you this prospect had been identified as a “must-win” … today was really bad … we can’t let this happen again.”

Ray Dalio had just received this email from a junior colleague on his team following a meeting with a client.

Now Ray Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater Associates, arguably the largest hedge fund firm in the world.

For most people, sending this sort of email can be tantamount to career suicide.

So how did Ray Dalio handle this?

Ray Dalio forwarded the message to other meeting participants, asking them to rate his performance in order to confirm the veracity of the feedback he had received.

The meeting participants concurred with the “D-” rating, essentially agreeing with the junior colleague.

Ray then shared the whole email thread with the entire organisation for them to see him in action taking feedback and minimizing his ego in the process.

2 key takeaways:

  1. Stay objective: When getting harsh feedback, sometimes we focus more on the way the feedback is given and completely ignore the content of the feedback. It is important to separate the two issues — The Feedback itself and The Method of Delivery of the Feedback. Admittedly, that is easier said. Ray stayed objective and focused on the feedback he was getting in order to make progress as an individual. If Ray was not happy with the tone/delivery style of the email, he could definitely address that in a separate conversation.
  2. Build a feedback-receptive culture: The email exchange could have taken place solely between Ray and the junior employee, but Ray went further. Firstly, confirming the rating from other meeting participants and then also sharing the entire thread with the whole organisation. The signal this sends to the firm is one that shows openness to feedback and one in which the minimisation of status and ego are encouraged.

When managing teams, you want the feedback always travelling vertically upwards to you. If the right behaviours are not modelled, employees and teammates would huddle in corners whispering to each other their discontent. This leads to toxicity, increased levels of anxiety and low morale. Avoid this. Go ahead today and begin to look for ways to show that you are receptive to feedback from your team.

Culled from The Mind of the Leader by Rasmus Hougaard et al.

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