Have you ever given someone what you thought was helpful feedback only to be surprised by a less-than-positive reaction?
We’ve all been taught that feedback—both the giving and the receiving—is the breakfast of champions. Right? So, when we share that breakfast with someone and the sharing falls flat, it’s not uncommon to blame the recipient for being unwilling to hear the truth.
That very well may be true. Experts tell us that “people avoid feedback because they hate being criticized.” Psychologists say that negative news triggers the inbred flight or fight reaction.
However, how many of us have honestly examined our motives and methods to discover if we contributed to the poor reception that our feedback received?
Robert Sutton, an organizational psychologist at Stanford University, observes that “we’re remarkably incompetent at understanding how we affect other people.” To assess if our methods and motives played a role in blunting the effectiveness of our feedback, here’s five questions we can ask ourselves.
5 questions to ask to deliver helpful feedback
1) Did I make the feedback all about me?
Icky feedback: Your incessant whining about how bad things are around here annoys me.
Not icky feedback: I share your concerns about the quality of our workplace. I hope you’re aware of how people here look to you as an informal leader. If you could use that ability and work with people to make change, I’m betting you could make a positive difference around here.
Feedback really isn’t feedback if the message is all about us. Feedback is meant to help or praise the other person, so keeping the focus on them is an important element to keep in mind.
2) Did I do my homework before offering feedback?
I was in a personal development mastermind group. One of the ground rules was to write out our issue, identify the assistance we wanted, and share this information ahead of time. When my time to receive feedback rolled around, one participant said she hadn’t read my materials but still had some thoughts she wanted to share with me. Her input wasn’t helpful because it wasn’t applicable to my situation.
Feedback is a gift. We have to take the time to make ours the best possible gift by being grounded in the facts before we offer advice.
3) Did I expect the recipient to be grateful because I shared my expertise with them?
My off-point feedback provider was a tad miffed by my “thank you for sharing, but your input isn’t going to work for me” response. She doubled down and pointed out all the success she had had in doing what she was telling me to do.
We can’t expect our feedback to be well-received if we haven’t taken the time to gain familiarity with what the other person is experiencing.
Additionally, if our feedback is negative and/or unsolicited, it requires someone with high self-awareness and a degree of humility to respond with grace and openness. We have to remember that not everyone is at that level of personal development and must be willing to meet them where they are.
4) Did I provide enough information in my feedback?
Icky feedback: You were really rude to Jonelle in that meeting.
Not icky feedback: In yesterday’s staff meeting, I saw you roll your eyes several times when Jonelle was speaking. You also interrupted her three times. Because she’s the only woman on our team, wrong messages are being sent about her value to the team.
To minimize defensiveness and define specific performance to change, we have to make feedback meaningful and concrete. We do that by using facts and observable actions to explain the situation, the behaviors involved, and their impacts.
5) In sharing my feedback, might I have come across as dogmatic or self-righteous?
We live in polarizing times in which social norms about declaring the rightness of our position and the wrongness of another’s are wobbling. Feedback delivered without respect and civility does more harm than good.
Icky feedback: Stop talking so much about change. Tradition is a big deal around here, and you have to get onboard with that.
Not icky feedback: As I listened to what you just said about your proposed project being turned down, I sensed your frustration with how slow things are to change. Stability and consistency are important to the owners. They want to preserve their father’s legacy. That being said, change is necessary. If you could just show them how a little innovation can make that legacy better, I bet they’ll be more open to listen to your ideas.
True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes. ~Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and winner, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
There’s a balance of responsibility that exists in both giving and receiving feedback. If we’re genuinely interested in helping the recipient of our feedback, we take the time to be thoughtful about both what we say and how we say it. We have to take ourselves, our motivations, and our wants out of the way if we’re going to be an effective messenger in delivering that breakfast of champions.
Image credit before quote: Pixabay
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The following is an excerpt from What Are Your Blind Spots? by Jim Haudan and Rich Berens
One of the foremost thinkers on purpose in recent history is Simon Sinek, who has published several books and gives an excellent TED Talk titled “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” According to Sinek, purpose is not about what you do, but it is about why you do what you do.
It’s the big-picture answer to the question, “What is your reason for being as an organization?” Most companies have spent time working on “the what” and “the how” but have not really gained deep clarity on “the why.”
And absent that, you are more strategically vulnerable to not adjust to today’s environment of rapid change. You are also vulnerable to the chance that your people will not have an authentic and meaningful connection to your company, leaving them feeling more like a cog in a wheel.
If you are not sure how to authentically make purpose the driver of your company, try this. Look at any successful person or company in history that you admire and really listen to the conversations about that success. Watch people tell their company story or observe how people passionately discuss what they do. In almost every case, the idea that they are a part of something bigger than themselves will surface.
When Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, was asked to only commit to those activities that were profitable, he responded by saying, “When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind, I don’t consider the bloody ROI.” That goes for many areas Apple pursues. According to him, the company does “a lot of things for reasons besides profit motive. We want to leave the world better than we found it.”
Apple is one of the most profitable companies on the planet and has been for some time. Cook’s point is not that Apple doesn’t care about profits. But profits are merely the outcome of being a company that is focused on creating unique value for its customers and doing things the right way. Cook knows that is important to him, to the people working at Apple, and to most people buying Apple products. It’s not only the right thing to do; it is actually the smart thing to do.
While a meaningful purpose is important, it’s also crucial to understand that this can raise difficult questions that teams need to be ready to wrestle with. CVS is the perfect example of such a situation. In September 2014, CVS stopped selling tobacco products because such products went against its purpose of helping people on their path to better health. The company understood it would take a significant short-term revenue hit, but the purpose of the company was the main driver.
After a few months of not selling cigarettes, CVS conducted a study of the impact this change had in states where its pharmacy share was prominent. The results were astounding. The company found that tobacco sales in those states across all retailers decreased by 1 percent in an eight-month period. That is a reduction of five packs per smoker and an overall reduction of 95 million packs of cigarettes in those states! That is living your purpose.
While CVS lost significant tobacco sales, the company also gained a lot of respect from many customers and employees because it showed it was serious about what CVS stands for. The jury is out, but we would venture to guess that over a 10-year time frame, this will prove to be a very profitable strategic decision embraced both by CVS employees who feel that there is an authentic commitment to purpose and by customers who show a greater degree of loyalty and trust toward the company.
Purpose ultimately requires great conviction and courage from leaders. Their focus must be on something larger than themselves and creating or fostering that in their organizations.
About today’s guest contributors
Jim Haudan is Co-Founder and Chairman of Root Inc. Root Inc., the organizational change expert on helping companies create leadership alignment, execute strategies and change successful, build employee engagement, and transform businesses.
Rich Berens is CEO and Chief Client Fanatic of Root Inc. and has helped align leaders at Global 2000 organizations to drive strategic and cultural change at scale.
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Hubby was peeved with me.
I couldn’t answer his question about whether or not our yard waste that was piled by the curb had been picked up.
“You went out to get the paper,” he said. “How could you not notice?”
Not noticing had been easy. The early morning air was fresh. The sky full of sun and frothy clouds. The fushia crepe myrtle blossoms luscious. An egret was looking for breakfast in the pond across the street. A writing assignment was due in two days. There was that choppy section of content in my leadership workshop that needed smoothing out. I needed to rework the overview section of my book proposal. I wanted another cup of coffee. Yard waste wasn’t anywhere near my radar screen.
There was the day when I would have fired off a snarky retort, Come on, yard waste? I have more important things on my mind. But that was before I learned about confirmation bias, the power of curiosity, and the magic of patience and acceptance.
Growing to the point where I could calmly and nondefensively answer, “Sorry, lovey. I wasn’t paying attention,” had taken a long time and lots of work. Too many gumdrops, too.
A few years earlier, I felt defensive a lot and puzzled, too, that people weren’t see events as clearly as I believed I was seeing them. Differences of thought, opinion, and perspective were causing friction in relationships. The final straw came after reconnecting with someone from my past whom I respected. We were exchanging views on current events when he commented that he was surprised that I’d let my mind get small.
Ooh, that stung.
Our best hope for finding invisible flaws in what we can’t see in our own thinking is to enter into different ideas or points of view—ideas that carry different assumptions. Only after we’ve managed to inhabit a different way of thinking will our currently invisible assumptions become visible to us. ~Peter Elbow, professor
That I had let my mind close was something I hadn’t considered. More importantly, I didn’t want to be as closed-minded as I believed those with whom I was debating were. Yet I was. Goodness.
There’s nothing good about being small-minded. Too much judgment, too many expectations, too much rigidity and conflict. Ick. I was seeing only what I looked for. That narrow perspective needed to change, and taking five actions helped me do that.
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?” ~ Nyogen Senzaki
5 ways to fuel curiosity, patience, acceptance, and personal growth
Give up on being right. Academia and business reward us for viewing the world through a right versus wrong lens. Let go of that orientation. Let a “my way or the highway” mindset belong only to bullies. Life, love, and leadership are more fun and rewarding when we let go of right/wrong judgments and learn to live with different opinions. Ambiguity exercises our minds and expands our hearts.
Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow. ~Tony Schwartz
Pick your battles. Not very issue is worthy of falling on your sword. Learn to gracefully and tactfully push back for constructive reasons on issues that really move the needle.
Be curious and look for the big picture. Don’t ignore all the good apples in the basket because of the single bad one on top. Take Dr. Elbow’s advice and get outside yourself and see from the perspective of someone else. Diversity of thought, opinion, and perspective brings the big picture fully into view. Helps with having humility, too.
Give people the benefit of the doubt. If you believe you can always tell a book by its cover, you’re biased and missing out. Enough said.
Tolerance isn’t enough. Tolerance, i.e., I can live with xx, is a virtue. It’s just not enough, though, in these days in which scientists say the range in degrees of separation is from two to ten people. That’s a lot of connectedness and difference to contend with. I can live with xx is best replaced with xx is OK. Through curiosity, we learn to respect people’s right to believe differently. Lead with love, not judgment.
Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on. ~Eckhart Tolle
Letting go of certainty brings peace. It begets openness, understanding, and connection, too. Expectations and social constructs become less constraining; conformity more boring. We become free to experience and grow. And be patient when someone expects us to see the yard waste we don’t see.
Image source (before quote): Pixabay
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Many Americans in the latter stage of a career, or even already in retirement, have discovered that it’s never too late to reinvent themselves and find new passion and purpose.
Folk artist Grandma Moses was in her late 70s before she began her painting career. Colonel Harland Sanders was in his 60s when he launched Kentucky Fried Chicken. Arnold Schwarzenegger reinvented himself a couple of times, going from professional body builder to actor to governor of California.
Sometimes referred to as “encore careers,” these second acts can reinvigorate you and give you a reason to greet each day with anticipation. I wrote my first novel after working for more than four decades as an attorney. I was able to incorporate elements from my original career in law into my encore career as a writer.
In doing so, I didn’t completely shed my past self to take on this new identity. I’m still working as a lawyer, and I work nights on my writing. So the bottom line is that I’ve pretty much added a second career into my life.
Feeling the urge to reinvent yourself? If so, I have three tips for you.
3 tips for reinventing yourself to find passion and purpose
- Realize that purpose is important.
After years in the same profession, it’s easy to become burned out and to operate on auto pilot as you perform the tasks of your job. Essentially, people can lose their sense of purpose. When they reinvent themselves, that purpose can be reignited. You’re much more likely to be successful when you’re driven by a sense of purpose.
I always wanted to write, so it wasn’t surprising that pounding out a novel could become a passion for me. If you’re reinventing yourself, your reinvention might center on something you’re passionate about. That could mean returning to college to earn a degree, learning a musical instrument, or embarking on the career you dreamed of as a child but put aside for more practical pursuits.
- Don’t convince yourself that it’s too late.
It’s never too late. Many years ago, the newspaper advice columnist Abigail Van Buren who wrote Dear Abby, received a letter from a 36-year-old college dropout who wanted to return to school to become a doctor. This would-be physician worried that it would take at least seven years to finish all the schooling.
“In seven years I’ll be 43,” the letter writer lamented.
Abby responded with a question. “How old will you be in seven years if you don’t go back to college?”
I didn’t write that letter, but I did spend seven years working on my book, writing between 11 PM and 1:30 AM each night. Burning the midnight oil paid off, so it definitely wasn’t too late to get started. It’s important to put your mind to its full use. With law, I was only using part of my brain. I wanted to do what I was capable of doing, so I began writing my novel. You can do the same.
Today’s guest contributor, Oliver Harris, is an author who spent 45 years working as a trial lawyer, prosecutor, and criminal defense attorney in both Chicago and Palm Beach County, Florida. Oliver’s undergraduate degree is from the University of Chicago, and his law degree is from the Indiana University School of Law.
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“Dave should have picked me to be on that special project team. He’s my boss. He should have known I wanted to participate.”
Should. Such a limiting word. It gifts us with frustration and anger.
“I should have been asked to lead the discussion group. They should have known that I’m good at that kind of work.”
Should…leads us down paths of disappointment and resentment.
“Kathy should have been smarter than to disagree with the boss. She should have known it wasn’t her place.”
Should…keeps the door to bias and stereotype wide open.
With its sweet smell and stickiness, flypaper attracts and then traps flying insects that land on it. Should is a piece of mental flypaper. Once we unfurl it, our thoughts get gummed up, and we get stuck in a place that’s usually not good for ourselves or others.
Sticky, limiting mental flypaper
When we think or say should, we’ve fallen into prescriptive thinking. That’s us defining the world and people by what we expect them to be and do. We ascribe our perspective onto others and judge them by our standards.
That method of flypaper thinking can get us into big trouble. How? We’re deciding after considering only one point of view—our own.
Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own. ~Paulo Coelho
Our thoughts, preferences, and perspectives make us unique. They’re our contribution to the endless smorgasbord of differences that make life fun and fascinating. That’s the plus side.
On the flip side, our preferences and tendencies can make our world small if we expect others to share them or to intuitively know them, like the words that Dave/they/Kathy should have known. Mental flypaper that gets us stuck.
5 bad things “should” helps us do
Whenever we think or say should, internal alarms need to ring because:
- We’re making judgments when we may have only a partial set of facts. The boss should have known I wanted that assignment. Unless we’ve specifically declared our interest, there’s a strong likelihood the boss doesn’t know.
- There’s the possibility we’re being close-minded, maybe even believing our own myth. They should have known I’m good at that kind of work. The spotlight effect bias is a tendency for people to overestimate the amount of attention people give to them. People may not know. Unless we’ve told him, we can’t assume they do.
- We might be displaying incivility toward people whom we’re expecting to behave in a certain way because of what we think the should know or do, and they aren’t.
- We may be marginalizing others because of unconscious bias or stereotype, which apply generalizations to individuals. She should have known her place.
- We might be frustrating ourselves immensely because no one is living up to the expectations we have about them that we never told them about!
Plus, there’s a good chance we’re displaying hubris, spreading negativity, hurting others, perpetuating unspoken expectations, sprinkling incivility, and unnecessarily working ourselves up.
Psychologist Robert Hogan notes that people have three needs: to get along, get ahead, and find meaning. When we ascribe our should be perspective onto others, it’s likely these three needs go unmet for ourselves as well as others. By building the should box, we eliminate the possibility of connecting, learning, or growing.
It’s not what you look at that matters. It’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau
When we catch ourselves using should, let’s think of this insight from professor Peter Elbow, “Our best hope for finding invisible flaws in what we can’t see in our own thinking is to enter into different ideas or points of view—ideas that carry different assumptions. Only after we’ve managed to inhabit a different way of thinking will our currently invisible assumptions become visible to us.” That’s some powerful advice.
Ready to step out of the should box?
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It was five minutes after the time we were supposed to meet, and I was worried because I was still sitting alone in the coffee shop. Had I gotten the date, time, or place wrong for our meetup? A frantic scroll through sent messages confirmed I was in the right place, right day, and right time.
Ten minutes ticked by. Still sitting alone. Wishing I wasn’t such a “good girl” about always being on time,
Might she have been in an accident? Taken ill? Dealing with a work emergency? Concerned, I called her.
She apologized, saying she’d forgotten about our get-together. Said she’d gotten busy on another project and that our appointment had totally slipped her mind. She didn’t offer to reschedule. The call ended pleasantly.
She’d forgotten about our meeting. That stung. It had been her idea to meet—she said she wanted to get to know me.
Feeling a little hurt, I finished my latte and watched others as they huddled over their coffees at the small tables, engaged in conversation with people who remembered and showed up, whispered the little voice in my head. My personal pity party was under way.
My little voice pointed out that I obviously didn’t matter enough to be remembered. *ugh* A low, slow simmer of anger bubbled up and mixed with my hurt. Together, those feelings lingered throughout the rest of the day.
Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner. ~Lao Tzu
Come the next morning, I wasn’t hurt or angry anymore.
Instead, I was fixated on wondering what her forgetting said about me. Did she forget because she discovered I wasn’t important? Did she forget because she’d regretted her spontaneity in suggesting that we get together? Did she not mention rescheduling because she’d decided I wasn’t interesting enough to meet with? Where had I fallen short?
These ridiculous, self-defeating thoughts continued to lurk in my head over the next several days.
Just give it a rest, will you? Implored my little voice (funny how it changes sides, isn’t it?). You’re giving this non-issue too much air time. She was busy. This isn’t about you. My little voice bounces between critic and coach. Fortunately, the coach was back.
The coach voice was right. The woman said had she’d gotten busy and forgot. Accept it, believe it, and move on, urged the coach. Quit making something personal that isn’t personal at all.
I was giving entirely too much power to a stranger. I had no control over the woman forgetting. I did, however, have complete control over how I responded to her forgetting.
I called her and suggested we reschedule. She readily agreed.
When we met, she thanked me for reaching out. She said she couldn’t bring herself to call me because she was embarrassed and ashamed for having behaved badly. She said she thought she was a better person than that but, obviously, she wasn’t.
Isn’t it fascinating how both of us had turned the focus back onto our self-perceived failings and short-comings and made something personal that wasn’t?
Always on the lookout for teachable moments, I found seven of them in this situation:
- Don’t jump to conclusions. Get the facts, test assumptions, and clarify, clarify, clarify before deciding you have the answer, know the reason, etc.
- Not everything is about you, so don’t unnecessarily give your power away.
- Consider the situation from the perspective of the other person, seek first to understand.
- Don’t conflate the behavior with the person. There are times when all good people behave badly.
- Self-worth comes from the inside out, not the outside in. Don’t be so quick to sell yourself short.
- Talk it out.
- Forgive, let go, move on.
We’re all human. That means we construct our view of reality through our personal filters, experiences, values, and beliefs. That, in turn, means we need to be eternally vigilant to not make everything about us. Because most of the time, it isn’t.
When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” -Miguel Ruiz
When we get out of our own way, that’s when success, true connection, and growth happens. Thank you, little coach voice.
Image credit before quote: Pixabay
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