For Those Who Have A Complicated Relationship With Feedback
Sara Ismail-Beigi Bartlett speaks with guests about their ideas, perspectives, and best practices regarding feedback. For some, this process can be alarming, but it is essential and a key basis for improvement.
In this episode of “Can I Offer You Some Feedback?” Sara chats with IT Executive Howard. Listen as they discuss the importance of having strong relationships in place before offering feedback. If you care about someone enough to help them improve, tailoring that feedback to the person makes it more effective. Subscribe to this podcast today so you never miss an episode!
Sara: Welcome to Can I Offer You Some Feedback? My name is Sara and this is the podcast for those who have a complicated relationship with feedback and are looking to hear from real people across levels and industries with their ideas, perspectives, and best practices on feedback. Before we dive in, I'd like to introduce our guest for the podcast today, Howard. He's a Cleveland area IT executive and a general nerd. Welcome to the conversation today.
Howard: Sara, thanks so much.
Sara: Great to have you. Well, let's kick things off with the main question of the podcast. When I say the phrase, can I offer you some feedback? What's your gut reaction when you hear that?
Howard: I have different reactions. I guess it depends on who the giver is, I'll say. If the giver is a friend, confidant, somebody close, I perk up. I'm ready to hear it. If the giver is not so close, maybe somebody gave me unhelpful feedback in the past, maybe I just put on a poker face and I expect to hear something that's going to hurt or I don't like.
Sara: Yeah, and there's a lot that we're already kind of prepping for with that prior context, with that prior information. I mean, a stranger on the street comes up to me. I'm going to feel one way versus someone that I have a lot of experience and rapport with and knows me differently. When you're thinking about that feedback, do you prefer to be the giver or the receiver of feedback?
Howard: I think I want to be the recipient. I guess I have enough ego to share my opinion with everybody else, right? So I'm looking for this helpful feedback. It maybe will help me improve temper, my style a bit. Let me be the recipient. It's about me.
Sara: Even in the asking of the recipient, it's still about giving. I see how that got flipped. I appreciate that. When you're thinking about that feedback, though, either on the giving or on the receiving side, how do you define meaningful? What makes it meaningful for you?
Howard: Meaningful feedback is guidance that would help a person correct, or maybe improve their behavior, improve their ability, and maybe it directs guidance to actions necessary to make a relationship better or something like that. It's good and helpful, right? It improves relationship. It makes a person better.
Sara: I mean, this is now kind of the second time you've mentioned the relationship component, right? Who that person is, your context with them, how that connects through, and that. We're tailoring the feedback and really making it right for them. We may be providing similar feedback to different people, but I want to make sure it's right for the relationship, right for the timing, right for the moment.
Howard: I think that's most effective, right? This piece comes together and it's us. And sure, I guess you can just roll up on someone like you said in the street and say, hey, you should not wear your shoes this way or whatever. And maybe that's helpful feedback. But in 2023, you get this, "Oh, who are you?" Maybe in 1950s, Mayberry, it's taken a little better. But we seem to be in a different time. And that's kind of sad.
Sara: Well, I think there's definitely a different perspective on the idea that maybe with kind of the current social media context, that the idea that everyone wants your feedback, right? And so let's create the environment where you feel comfortable telling everyone. And like I am all for it when people on the street are like awesome, sure, or like love what you're doing with blank. We can do that all day long, but I think we both agree that's maybe not what's happening in most of the discourse. And so that can make it challenging when we're thinking about feedback in that way.
Howard: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Sara: I'm curious if you could share an example of when you've either seen, experienced, heard that meaningful feedback delivered.
Howard: So I wanted to go back a bit. I was participating in this exercise and the objective I learned was that we wanted to encourage cooperation among distant parties, right? And we were a team, we were split in two groups, and we had this exercise task to complete. And I pursued it like it was a competition. I pushed the group that I was in to do all the things and take everything and leave nothing for the other side. And when the group all reassembled, of course, I was there and I just wanted to brag about the win. It's like, huh, we won.
And my team just let me have it. They told me how they discovered what the true objective was and how they were attempting to communicate this to us though the exercise didn't let you do that. And they told me how disappointed and how hurt they were to see that I didn't recognize it and the people with me didn't recognize it. And of course, since this was the objective of the exercise that we would determine that we'd work together and collaborate, I was just struck by that.
I mean, I still see their faces today and I think I collaborate to a fault because of what they told me that day. That was a powerful exercise and a great example of a team coming together and even though we failed the exercise, that relationship we talked about before, we had the ability to talk about what we felt and I had a chance to improve.
Sara: And in some ways, I think you're highlighting that even though it wasn't, "a success", the point of the exercise really wasn't win or lose. It was to get your team to talk about how to work together. And so if that instead was the objective, then like, yeah, it was a success, right? How else would you have heard that feedback? How else would you have had that insight and that seeing their faces? Like it can really carry with us, especially if it's been a powerful on either side, but a really powerful interaction that's taken that forward. So I appreciate you sharing that.
Sara: If I switched jobs and I was in the business of giving wishes, what's one wish that you'd have for
people to do maybe one thing better regarding feedback? What would it be?
Howard: I want that wish. I would say that you should assume that the person who's giving the feedback to you has your best intention, right? When I get feedback, I'll listen and I'll process that feedback if there's such a thing, right? And I'll discard it personally if I think it's unhelpful or misguided or doesn't work for me. But I appreciate all that feedback because my assumption is, hey, it came from the giver's heart. So thank you. No, but thank you, right? If the feedback isn't helpful. And thank you if the feedback is helpful because it was great for me.
Yeah, that's my thought. This feedback that I received, this person intended well for me. An example that I can just think of, someone walks up to me and says, "Howard, I trust you more if you did X with me. And that would be a great thing." And my response is well, "Sure, thanks for the feedback. No, I won't do X, but I hope to find another way to earn your trust," right? So ideally, the relationship is still there, except that the feedback is helpful and we continue moving forward. And my assumption is always that, hey, the person intended well. It just didn't work for me.
Sara: Yeah. And of course, there's the appreciation of we all have different styles, we all have different approaches. And I'm hearing you kind of touch on, I want to obviously receive it, but that doesn't mean I have to integrate it. That doesn't mean I have to use it. I still want to be aware of it. I still want to know it. I can take it in, but I don't have to keep it in.
Howard: Why not? Why not?
Sara: And I can use it in kind of a different way. And I appreciate that the core of that is hearing that other person, right? Maybe their delivery wasn't fantastic. Maybe the content was not 100%. Maybe you just don't agree, period. But I also think it brings up that curiosity of... I sometimes wonder like a genuine curiosity of how did they think that would be helpful? I want to know what may they have been trying to do. Right? I can't imagine this was their intent.
Howard: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Sara: Like what were they trying to do? What could I hear maybe a little differently? And what am I learning about that other person because they shared this with me?
Howard: Absolutely. And back to the relationship thing, I mean, clearly, I'm not saying anything more than that, but if we care about a person enough to help this person improve and offer this feedback, positive feedback, critical feedback, we should probably know more about that person than maybe their name and the place they go to work, right? So ideally, the better that relationship is, the more valuable the feedback. And even the feedback that misses occasionally, right? This relationship is enough to take that in. So I certainly agree with you.
Sara: Yeah. Absolutely. So for our last question, for our time together, Howard, can I offer you some feedback?
Howard: So this is where I smile and say, sure.
Sara: Well, what are you feeling inside?
Howard: Well, I'm sitting at the end of my chair waiting to listen in this podcast land.
Sara: Oh, podcast land indeed. Well, you know, Howard, one of the things that I'm so appreciative of, and we've had the opportunity to kind of work in very unusual, different types of projects and settings and etc. One of the things that I think is so valuable about again, talking to that relationship point, I've been so impressed at your curiosity to really, really know what people do, how they do it, how they engage in process. I mean, working in separate areas, you'd often come down and genuinely be curious and remember the material that I'd shared before.
And I know that sounds obvious like ask questions and remember, but we both know folks that ask the questions and don't remember and that ruins the authenticity of the engagement. But I've just been so impressed that you have this appreciation of really wanting to understand that other person's lens, their perspective, their view, and how you could help fit into that, how you might be able to provide a new perspective, a new idea. I know I'm grateful for that as far as the feedback you provide and the insight and the perspective that you give because I know that you care.
Because you've done the homework, you bring back the material from five conversations ago. You're asking and showing this is a relationship where you are invested in the person. And not just with me, I've seen you do this with other people as well, that the care that you have for that conversation and the genuine curiosity of like, I actually want to know, how does this process work? How does this process work? Why are you interested in that? How does this background come up? Because now you know more of that context about me so that your feedback is grounded in me and the relationship that we have and how this actually could serve it going forward.
I know I've really benefited from that. And I think it's made our working relationship a lot stronger to be able to know that. And I'm hoping that the folks that you work with in all the different spheres in which you work with folks also benefit from that as well. That care and that curiosity that you provide to folks as in the spirit of inquiry and in the spirit of feedback. So I know I'm thankful for that.
Howard: Well, thank you. I mean, you're way too kind. Like you said, we know each other and we go way, way back. And you've always been the person that was always engaging. And frankly, I've seen you do the same thing with the people that you lead, the people you consult with, and even in this forum. So thanks for even helping the rest of us understand these concepts and how this works. So yay, we're a great team.
Sara: Thanks, Howard. Well, I just want to again say thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. And thanks to you for joining us in another episode of Can I Offer You Some Feedback? You can reach me at [email protected]. We would love to hear from you on your thoughts on feedback or any other perspective so you'd like to hear from next. As always, give us a quick rating on your platform of choice and share this podcast with a friend. And I'm hoping that tomorrow you take a chance and offer some feedback when it's needed most.