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.
Usually feedback is given to someone during a performance review and is likely to occur after something goes wrong. When only disciplinary feedback is given, people tend to operate in fear. How can we create an environment that welcomes consistent feedback for the good and the bad?
It's important to make people feel comfortable enough to provide you with feedback and receive it from you. Acknowledge that feedback may be hard to hear, but it is necessary to grow. So provide feedback in the moment! Subscribe to this podcast today and 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 today for the podcast, Sara. I consider them to be a health engagement expert and a wellness strategist. Welcome to the conversation.
Sara W: Hi, thanks for having me.
Sara: Great to have you, too. 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?
Sara W: Ugh, my gut reaction is, “Oh, crap. What did I do wrong?” That's my gut reaction.
Sara: Yeah, absolutely. You're not the first to have said that. Definitely a response. What does it make you think of?
Sara W: I think that I first go to, “What did I do wrong?” because I don't really consistently get feedback. And when I do, it is during a performance review. You are like, “Okay, you're doing great.” Or, “I would do this differently.” I'm not receiving consistent feedback for the good and the bad. That's why I probably initially go to, “Oh, what have I done? What do I need to apologize for?”
Sara: Yeah. And that's often what happens a lot of times, especially with high performers that you're not getting enough feedback. And so when someone does want to give you feedback, it's easy to assume the worst. Especially, if you're getting conditioned to the only time I give you feedback is when you're doing something wrong. But when you're thinking about that, and I know that you've both been in supervisory roles as well as individual contributor, which do you prefer to be, the giver or the receiver of feedback?
Sara W: I think you have to have both. You have to be a giver and a receiver in order for feedback to work. I want people that I give feedback to to feel comfortable giving it back to me. I want them to feel comfortable receiving it from me. I'm a lifelong learner. I definitely have room to improve. I recently heard this quote, "you will never become who you are meant to be if you're content with who you are." So, I'm constantly trying to, you know, what is my next step? What's my next challenge? And when you take on challenges in order to grow, you definitely have some stumbling. And if you don't receive feedback through that stumbling, both pro and con, you can't grow. And we all want to grow. That's what we're here for. If we weren't challenging ourselves, it would become boring.
Sara: I hear you articulating right there that balance between creating the space that's comfortable but also pushing yourself into the discomfort. So both and thinking about how you can support and push not only yourself but also those you work with to be able to think of it in both of those ways.
Sara W: I agree.
Sara: So that's really interesting. When you think about feedback, how would you describe what meaningful feedback is?
Sara W: I think that meaningful feedback has to have trust as its foundation. Without trust and that kind of respect that comes from trusting the person, the feedback is not meaningful. Most of the time feedback is during the mandatory mid-year and year-end check-in. And it's like, “You're doing a great job.” Or, “You're not doing a great job.” One or the other. Meaningful feedback really comes immediately after you do something good or bad, someone reaching out to you and saying, “Hey, you did that good.” Or maybe, “Think about improving in X, Y, Z way.” When you have that tangible example and you're able to say, “I did this well.” or “I can improve on this.” It's right after you've done something. Like light bulbs click. The light bulb goes off and you're able to put it together like, “Okay, I can improve on this.” Or, “Okay. I did this great. I'm going to do it that same way next time.”
When you're just given feedback midyear and yearend, there's no context. You have no frame of reference as to what you did well or what you need to improve on. Because it's like, “You did well.” When? When did I do well? When did I need to improve? Not, “You need to improve.” I guess to summarize, meaningful feedback comes when you have trust, respect, and a level of consistency so that it's happening after you do something where feedback should be given. Not just twice a year because you have to check a box.
Sara: Yeah. And sometimes doing it in that kind of perfunctory way like I'm doing this because I have to, you're missing the opportunity to really connect with someone.
Sara W: It has to be immediate.
Sara: You also mentioned… Yeah, and it has that timeliness, that immediacy, and directly connected to a situation. I love that you were articulating that need to not only provide the specific example but also the recommendation. I think that sometimes if we remember to do the example, we forget to do the recommendation. It's not just when, but now what? And connecting that for the person is sometimes just that extra step that can make a huge difference. So I love that you shared that.
Sara W: That's a reinforcement method, right? You're disciplining a child, “Hey, you did a good job tying your shoes. I like how you made it into bunny ears.” or whatever the example may be. That's how we are trying to improve, and that's the reinforcement that we need to actually make a change.
Sara: Mm-hmm. Yeah. I'm smiling at that example you were talking about with whether it's providing feedback or that constructive support to a child. I think sometimes when working with children, whether you're a caregiver, whether you're a parent, whatever your role might be, we're a lot more patient and giving with our feedback. And so what would it look like if we also extended that same courtesy to the adults in our lives? Thinking about providing the context, providing that immediacy, providing more of the support that we're looking for. As you were sharing, I could hear a lot of different ideas and examples that you might have been thinking of. Could you share perhaps an experience of when you've seen meaningful feedback delivered?
Sara W: Definitely. Like I said, professionally, I believe most of my feedback has been given during performance reviews. “You're doing a great job.” “Okay. Thanks. When? How? What would you like me to keep doing well?" That context is just maybe not given, but I really do think I have two solid examples of relationships and times in my life where I have received meaningful feedback. The first is, in the gym with a coach that I trust. They are the expert, and they watch me lift the weight or do the activity. And they say, “Great job. Try moving your body this way.” Or, “Try holding the bar this way or the weights.” Then they watch you do it again and again and again and commend you when you do it correctly. And then that trust is there, like I said. It's consistent and very tangible in the moment. So that's the one example that I just really thought I have had a couple of coaches, trainers in my life that have been really great at doing that.
Sara: That's such a great point with the coach. Can you imagine if your trainer gave you feedback every six months on how you were doing?
Sara W: “You lifted that weight really well four months ago.” Yeah, that's not helpful.
Sara: It's a perfect example of that ongoing frequency, that immediacy. You would never continue to work with a coach, a trainer who only gave you feedback once a year or twice a year. That sounds ridiculous. So I love that connection.
Sara W: Yes. And if it was like, “Great job.”
Sara: And that's it.
Sara W: Or, “You need to improve.” What?
Sara: Yep. I love that connection. But I know you mentioned you had a second example as well.
Sara W: Yeah. Well, I've been married 11 years now. So I think, really, if I didn't tip my hat to how relationships work with my partner, with my spouse in order to have two children and pay mortgage and buy groceries, you got to have the trust. And you have to have process improvement along the way in how you deal with things in your marriage, in your partnerships, in life. So I think that's always hard right at the beginning when you get married and of course, there's room to improve. But my husband is really good at providing me with like, “Hey, when you did this, it bugged me.” And I'm open to receiving that because I want him to be happy. I want our marriage to last. And so I think that that example really layers in the trust, the respect. He doesn't just tell me when I do things right. He's like, “Oh, I like really liked it when you put away the dishes.” I'm like, “Oh, I guess I should do that more often and make him happy.” That type of thing.
I think that's another example. Coaching, marriage, when those things are going well, you are giving and receiving feedback. And you are doing so in a consistent manner where you're wanting to take your marriage to the next level. You're weightlifting to the next level. You want to take your job to the next level, that same kind of mindset has to be part of your everyday frame, the frame of reference. I want to improve. That means I'm going to have to hear some tough stuff sometimes. But if you're the one giving the feedback, acknowledge it may be hard to hear, but that's what's necessary to grow.
Sara: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. And that is part of the challenge. You've already mentioned a couple of tidbits so far. I'm curious, if you had maybe one wish for people, if they could do just one thing better regarding feedback, what might be that one thing you'd pick?
Sara W: I think consistency. And not to have your feedback given once, twice a year, to really do it in the moment and do it when good things happen as well as room for improvement, more of the negative things that someone may be doing. You got to have both. And when you are doing it consistently, you're doing it in the moment, you're really building the trust and the respect that you should have to receive it as well. So I think that consistency is really my word that comes to mind that I wish people could just do more often with feedback.
Sara: That's excellent. Thank you for that. For our last question in our time together, Sara W, would it be okay? Can I offer you some feedback?
Sara W: Oh, sure.
Sara: Excellent. I think in our conversation today, you've really hit on the idea of creating not only you mentioned that consistent environment but creating the environment where people feel comfortable to be able to not only ask questions but also receive the feedback from those questions. I know in my working with you, I love the way that you do create that space, that open environment for people to have the comfort, but also you have such a nice way of gently pushing people into discomfort. Can you try this other approach? Have you considered this? Might this work for you? And I love that you open the door for people in that way. This also connected with your ability to describe things in 10 different ways for people to try this way, that way, another way. Here's another option. And so when I see those two connected, creating the environment, and being able to educate in a number of different varieties, I think this is a superpower for you.
Sara W: Oh, thank you.
Sara: I'd love to see more opportunities where you're merging these two together. I know you're already doing it a lot, but this is a fantastic skill that you have. And I’m so grateful that I have it in my life as well.
Sara W: Thank you. Thank you. I love this positive feedback that you're giving me. I really appreciate it, and it will motivate me to be more intentional with my feedback and my storytelling. Thank you.
Sara: Sara W, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. And thanks to you for joining us for another episode of Can I Offer You Some Feedback? You could reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear from you on your thoughts on feedback and any other perspectives you'd like to hear from next. As always, you can give us a quick rating on your platform of choice and share this podcast with a friend. And I'm hoping that tomorrow, you can take that chance and offer some feedback when it's needed most.