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.
This week Sara brings on Nathan, a Director of Specialized Behavioral Health Services. As a part of their discussion, they talk about how best to create safe spaces to provide feedback to clients, co-workers, and peers. When in a leadership role, it’s important to consider both relationship building and intention setting in the feedback process. Subscribe to the podcast 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, Nathan. He's a director of Specialized Behavioral Health Services and would love to welcome you to the conversation.
Nathan: Well, thanks for having me today. It's good to see you again.
Sara: Absolutely. So 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?
Nathan: For me, I think the gut reaction that I have is a bit of excitement because feedback is that chance to find out how you might be able to do something a little bit better. Maybe excited in the bad sense like, what am I going to hear from this person now that they're saying they want to give me some feedback? So there's a little bit of anxiety around that. I would say for me it's a mix of excitement and also that kind of anxiety. I'm kind of an anxious person, so that's how it works for me.
Sara: Yeah. I mean that energy is kind of like a spectrum going all the way from like excitement, like happy excitement, and also like a gut excitement. I'm sure a lot of the different factors, which we'll probably get into later, like change what degree on that spectrum you're on. Whether you're more like excited happy or excited terrified as you go.
Nathan: Right. Absolutely. And especially, the inflection of that has a lot to do with that response as well. Like there's that, hey, could I give you some feedback? Like it's a little guarded like they're afraid of what you're going to say next. Like maybe a no, I don't know. But you're absolutely right about that though. There's how the person presents that or the circumstance can swing you on that one way or another.
Sara: Yeah. It's definitely one of those sentences that depending on where the person puts the emphasis, changes the sentence quite a bit. Can I offer you some feedback or can I have some feedback, right?
Sara: I'm curious, when you're thinking about feedback, do you prefer to be the giver or the receiver?
Nathan: So lately, I very much so like to be the receiver of feedback more so than they giver of feedback. I'm working on that relationship, that complicated relationship with feedback. So for me, I'm making it part of my process and my supervision is not just with my superiors, but also for the folks that I'm providing leadership to that I'm seeking out that feedback. I'm asking them for that feedback, good or bad. I want to make time for that in any meaningful one-on-one interactions that we have.
Because once I get that feedback from them, then I can think, am I taking them on the right track here? Are we doing the right things for the community? Since working in a community and making sure that we're getting behavioral health services out into the community, that's really important to me to know that we're doing it the right way. And so, I really like giving that feedback.
I'm getting that feedback. But on the other side, giving that feedback is a little bit more difficult for me. I'm trained as a social worker and I can give feedback, but it's always been I think it's just a difficult thing for me to do, and so it's something that I'm always trying to get better at, if that makes sense.
Sara: Yeah. I mean, I think that there's something in when you have been trained to do something, you have even more information about knowing how it lands, knowing how the other person's receiving it. But there's also that you have a set of skills to work with a client, another person like a human in front of you, and the team you supervise or the team that's supervising you. They're also still humans, but it's a different relationship. And so, you can't always just use the same skills that you've been trained on.
Nathan: No. No.
Sara: Especially when the other folks know what skills you're using on them.
Nathan: Right, yeah.
Sara: They're like, oh, I see you're using the blah, blah, blah effect.
Nathan: Right, right. And two even in giving that feedback, how much of a relationship do you have with that person, right? Because that relationship piece is extremely important to that, especially if you're giving very clear and direct feedback. If the relationship's not there, it's just not going to work. It's not going to land in a way that's going to be meaningful or impactful.
Sara: Right. That's a perfect segue. I was curious. You've touched on a few of those elements. How do you define that meaningful feedback? So far you've talked about the relationship. You've talked about hearing that from that other person. I'm curious, what are some other elements of that meaningful feedback?
Nathan: Got you. Okay. So how would I define meaningful feedback? I think I just mentioned that the relationship is very important in that if I want to receive feedback or give feedback, it has to be rooted in either that person looking to help me become a better version of myself or do something better or maybe hear something about myself that maybe I'm not ready to hear, but I need to hear. I need to know that they have best intention in mind with that. So that's why I say the relationship is really important.
Same with the folks that I provide leadership to. I want them to feel like what I am. The feedback I might be giving them is not about them personally. It's about I know that you are heading in this direction where you have some great things that you're working on to help people out in our community and I see some things that I think that you could get better about.
Part of that is maybe putting my feedback out there and then going into listening mode and then having that time to maybe be curious about why they were seeing the situation that way. A lot of the relationship building that you do ahead of time can help them feel comfortable knowing that it's okay to talk through this and to dissect it and that it has nothing to do with the boss being mad or any of those things.
Sara: Yeah. I really appreciate that you've brought kind of both of those examples, the helping orientation. I mean, we can't help folks unless there's a space where they feel safe to share what they need for us to be able to communicate our intent. But on both of those sides, the feedback that I'm trying to receive hopefully is coming from a good place. What are those good intentions?
But then also I hope the other person is seeing my good intentions when I'm doing that, and that this is intended to improve their style, their approach, the way that they're doing their work. And this is from a place of help. We want to be able to serve our clients, our coworkers, our peers in a way that's most impactful. I'm curious. You've touched on a few broad examples. I'm wondering if you could share a specific example when you've either received meaningful feedback or you've seen it delivered to someone else.
Nathan: Yeah. Meaningful feedback that I have received? I thought I had an answer to this question to start with. In the moment now like I'm thinking about it. I think something that I could probably offer to that would be something that had happened over this last year. I'd been working on several projects here. I've been really kind of up to my neck in some of the work. My superior that I have now, although I hate to even say superior. It just came out, you know, superior. The person I report to now, he is a master at this. He's a master at providing feedback in a way that is really constructive for me.
I had to get some feedback at the beginning of the year about me managing kind of my own internal anxiety and stress when it comes to trying to help those around me with that. He was noticing that I was not speaking up when I would've usually spoken up or that when I was speaking up, it was very short and to the point and came across as being maybe unfeeling or uncaring.
But in the moment, I was feeling as though like I'm taking care of this problem so I can go to the next problem. And so, in my mind I'm thinking, I'm helping out. I'm, giving my two cents in. It seems pretty clear to me. All right, I have another fire to put out. I'll see you next week. I didn't realize at the time that like that was coming across that way. And so, I had to take that feedback, process it and then be vulnerable with my managers and talk with them about how this had had an effect on their work environment over the last few months that I'd been working through some of these things.
So I think that was really meaningful to me because when it was presented to me, it wasn't something that was like a punishment. It wasn't a knock on me or anything like that. It's like, hey, this is what I'm seeing. Like what do you think about that? I noticed that when you were in this meeting that you said this and you just kind of moved on and you didn't really give it time to develop out and let people talk about it, and that allowed me to kind of take a step back and really think about what it is that I need to do and have some of those difficult conversations in the background to kind of realign my team, if that makes sense.
Sara: Absolutely. I mean, I think that when there are so many fires that are happening or pressing issues, whatever they may be, it is kind of easier in the moment to think like transaction, transaction, transaction. How do I move from this question, this question, this question? And I appreciate that the person who supervises you took the time to say, hey, here's how it's landing. I really love that you shared that you came back with feedback on the feedback. Because I think that sometimes folks just feel like they have to accept it and then that's it. It could be a bidirectional conversation, but I think the follow-up conversation after you've had time to really process, let it marinate, digest, whatever verb you want to use, like that's a more important conversation to chime in about how that person is having an impact on you and then also what that feedback has looked like over time.
So I feel like that secondary conversation can be super meaningful to the person giving the feedback. Here's the context you haven't seen. Here's what you don't understand about this situation, or maybe I haven't shared about the situation. And how do we use both of those data points to be able to inform the path forward? So I love that you've shared that kind of example in that way. Sometimes I wish I could just give out wishes and grant them all. If you had one wish for folks around giving feedback, what would it be?
Nathan: One wish that I would give people around accepting or giving feedback I'm assuming, yeah?
Nathan: To be okay with the idea that feedback is going to elicit responses in others that will either be neutral, happy, angry, guilty, sad, like the whole gambit of human emotion. Part of the purpose of giving feedback is to be clear, is to be kind. It's to be very clear with what you're saying to someone that's going to elicit those responses.
What I would wish for them is to be comfortable in sitting with someone in that and not trying to adjust it to say like, I made him feel bad with this. Like I need to make them feel better, like move away from this. Or I gave this, I saw they're having a reaction. I would wish to give them some space to allow for folks to have the emotions that they're going to have and to sit with them in that and recognize that's part of the process. Because like you said earlier, we're all human beings, right?
Sara: Yeah. I think that, as you said, there is a natural desire to run away from discomfort. But I mean I can't speak for every feedback conversation. In most feedback that either I've received or that I've observed, it's not been life-threatening. Again, most times it's not been emotionally damaging for the other person. And so, I appreciate the reflex to shy away, to step back from. But as you're saying, someone else is giving me a whole different perspective. To the prior example you had shared that supervisor sharing, hey, you're coming off like this and you're… that's kind of a minor mind-blowing revelation because that's not how you intended to come off at all.
And so, when someone is sharing, hey, I have a whole different perspective on how you think you're acting. Let me give you some insight into that. I think I can appreciate the discomfort, but I 100% agree the need to, if possible, give space, allow people time. And I love that you said to sit with them in that.
Nathan: Yeah, exactly.
Sara: You're opening up this conversation, let's not dump and run. Let's sit for the conversation and really give space to that person.
Nathan: Yeah, absolutely.
Sara: Excellent. Okay, fantastic. Nathan, for the last question of our time together, can I offer you some feedback?
Nathan: Well, yes you can.
Sara: I've just been buttering you up Nathan, one of the things that I've appreciated, and we haven't necessarily worked directly together on the core of the work that you do, but we have partnered together on kind of cross-disciplinary teams. We've had the ability to kind of share different perspectives. What I kind of have had the opportunity to observe is you have an infectious enthusiasm to just be with people.
What I mean by be is that I really think that, at least when I've observed, you have a very natural, authentic style that people gravitate to and you really hold space for them. And I appreciate, yes, it's a part of your training. Yes, it's a part of the work that you do. But I also know a few clinicians who don't make space for folks and who don't take the time to share in the curiosity about like what are we working on, how can I contribute, how can I help?
I think that, at least in my view, I've always really appreciated the infectious like helping attitude that you have approached work with and even if it's hard, it makes it enjoyable, it makes it fun. And I'm like, well, at least we're going to go down having a good time. Or at least we're going to do our best and know that like here's what we did and here's what we're working on. I've really appreciated that. I hope that your team gets to see that, whether up, around, over, et cetera.
I know it's been many years since we've worked directly with each other, but I really hope that other folks can see that. I think it's been one of the reasons kind of why you're in your current role and had the ability to really share with your teams, not only the technical expertise, that clinical expertise, but also how do we build team, how do we get people excited and involved and interested in doing this work? Because it's hard work. And so, I know I've been really appreciated and wanted to say thank you.
Nathan: Well, thank you. I appreciate all of the kind words. I do appreciate it. One of the things I'm working with feedback is getting positive feedback can be just as difficult as getting other types of feedback. I am in this moment practicing gratitude for that, so thank you for that.
Sara: Absolutely. Well, Nathan, thank you so much for taking 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@example.com. We would love to hear from you on your thoughts on feedback or any other perspectives 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. I'm hoping that tomorrow you take a chance and offer some feedback when it's needed most.