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, Sara is joined by Health IT Senior Project Manager, Bronwen. They discuss how feedback is a constant series of transactions. Oftentimes, emotions typically come up first before we can internalize the feedback given. The better we can control how we process and give out feedback, the more effective it will be. Subscribe to the podcast for new episodes weekly!
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, Bronwen. She's a senior product manager in health IT and a registered nurse. Welcome to the conversation today.
Bronwen: Hello. It's lovely to be here.
Sara: Excellent. 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?
Bronwen: So it's a good question and I love that you wanted to ask me about feelings first because I think that feedback has a lot to do with feelings and how that is processed. So I'm going to be honest and say that the first feeling that I had from that was defensive. But I don't think that's the right word. Technically, I want to put my listening ears on. It makes me want to pause and think about what you're about to give me because I know that you're about to hand something off to me in one way or another, So what I want to be able to do is say that I am putting on my listening ears, I want to focus on you, and I want to remind myself that good, bad, or ugly, that this is new information for me. And that's generally how I personally take when someone tells me, "I'd want to offer you some feedback."
Sara: And I think that feeling part is real. Right? I mean, I am saying gut reaction, but our emotions typically come up first before our brain can come back in and push its way forward and say, oh no, wait a minute. Maybe something else is actually going on. When you're thinking about that feedback, do you prefer in situations to be the giver or to be the receiver of feedback?
Bronwen: Receiver hands down. And a lot of that has to do with specifically where I sit in my own industry and also how I have internalized my role on a lot of these teams. You mentioned the fact that I work in health IT. I specifically work in something called interoperability, which is basically the communication between new different systems. We spend a lot of time talking about senders and receivers. We spend a lot of time talking about clients and servers. But all of this, regardless if it's verbal or if it's technology, it's a communication. And there is a receiver and there is a sender. And I personally like to be the receiver.
The reason why is because in any communication there is responsibilities on both parties. The sender has a responsibility around the content of what they're sending. They're responsible for knowing that if I'm going to text you or call you or email you, I'm choosing how I'm going to communicate to you. And I think that's still true with feedback. I'm choosing the time and the place that I've decided to start this conversation.
But I like being the receiver because there is just as much responsibility on that end to be open to communication. I can't control how someone sent me something. But I can control how I receive it. And if I am open-minded about that, if I am using my listening ears and critically thinking about this, it's going to let me get more out of it and hopefully make both myself and my organization better. And I think that that's one of the things that makes me good at taking in feedback because I don't always think about it just from my own perspective or that this feedback is personally directed at me.
Sara: I like that you're kind of separating the different sides of that. Like again, we can't control that message that's coming at us, but we can control our response. And I know that obviously being a nurse as well, you've spent time on the floor. And that's feedback in all the directions. You're a giver, you're a receiver between the patient, between the other providers, between the other employees that are working in the building. There's a lot of that communication.
And it's essentially talking about how we can do that best care for that patient who themselves is deciding what information they choose to share and how they want to kind of operate in that space. So I think it's an interesting perspective how we process through that. I'm thinking about that. And you mentioned kind of a few different areas. How do you think about meaningful feedback? What are some of the aspects of it for you?
Bronwen: So for something to be meaningful, again, I think it's really important for us to be really conscious about why we started that conversation in the first place. And I appreciate the fact that you brought up my nursing background. I think that it's one of the reasons why I take that feedback less personally. Because for the longest time for the first half of my career, the feedback wasn't personal. It was, how are we going to do this shared project together which was don't kill this person.
So it doesn't matter if one of us is upset that someone else did something either incorrectly or not the way we preferred it. The point is, is that we have to find a path to move forward to continue this shared project. And so now that I am working in a different context, taking that lesson from that and having that be one of the first careers that I had, really impacts how I respond to communication.
So I think one of the things that's important about meaningful feedback is that as a sender, being conscious of the fact that you can't control how someone receives your information. That's just true. And I think that that's partially a feeling thing of you can't control other people's actions, you can only control your own. So if you're going to have that communication with them, you want to make sure that it's actionable. There is an exchange here. I'm sending this to you.
The assumption is that you would like the other person to take action, to change their behavior, to do something. If that's the goal, then really process is the way that I'm about to send this over to another person the best way of doing this. Will it create the action that I'm hoping it will? And if you think about that before giving feedback, you're going to have, in my experience, better results of it actually being received. If you are conscious about how you're sending it.
And then as a receiver, it's that being open. So yeah, you can't control how this sender sent it to you. Did they pick the worst time possible? Sure. But if you're able to be flexible, if you're able to be open to that feedback and really think about the shared project that you have, then you're going to be able to get more meaning from it. Is it going to be meaningful in that moment that we're all going to go and stat fix a patient? Or is it going to be meaningful to you in that this is the kind of feedback you remember for the rest of your life and impacts the way that you send communication from then on? It's being open.
Sara: I really appreciate. I don't think I've ever heard clinical care described as a shared project. I love that idea. And maybe I'm just new to it. But I love that concept of it's not personal in that sense. We all have roles to play on the shared project and we're all bringing different expertise, but that's really a shared purpose. Right? And I know you were joking and necessarily like we don't want to kill this patient. But we want them to leave here better than they came in. Right? And that's our shared goal. That's our shared project. And we're doing that with 20 other people on the floor. Right? We've got 20 shared and depending on the bed size, all of that. But we've got 20 other shared projects and they don't all have the same teams.
So every project team is slightly different, but we need to have that same understanding when we kind of come into those systems. And in the other connection that I wanted to just call out that you were making was, again, this kind of systems orientation of I want to plan my feedback in advance for the outcome I'd like to see. Right? How can I package this so that it's as best I can? Again, I can't control the other person. I can't control how they're going to receive it. But am I putting some time into making sure that I know what I'm hoping our joint outcome is going to be and how my shaping right now of this feedback bundle is going to impact that down in the process. And I think that's really a nice systems view on thinking, okay, am I sharing this for a reason and what's the hopeful outcome that serves both? Right? Again, in that shared project.
Sara: I'm curious if you can share an example and experience of when maybe you've seen meaningful feedback delivered or you've heard it or you've observed it with others. If you could share maybe an example experience of that.
Bronwen: I see it all of the time. And I think that people underestimate how much communication we really do, whether we're saying I'd like to give you some feedback. Any interaction that you have with a person is feedback. Even someone nodding at you or someone laughing at the joke that you just made, there's some feedback that's happening there. Using a more specific example, I just came back from a conference. That's part of why I'm a little raspy right now.
And that was rapid-fire meaningful feedback. It was, here is my new product line. I think it has value. What do you think? And having a variety of different stakeholders come up to our booth and really shoot to hell anything that I had been working on for the past six months. And that was a lot of feedback. And in that position, you really have to not take it personally. I guess to put a fine point on it, doesn't mean it has to be positive or negative and to remember the audience.
So some of these folks, their problem is really, really personal to them. So their feedback is going to be more charged. And I think that's important. So not only that feedback is important, but the consciousness of where it's coming from. So telling me that, you know, oh my god, this would be so much better if it was like this. You're like, oh, thank you. Thank you for giving me some input because there's something I could do with that now. If you didn't share that input, I wouldn't have anything to process, to make myself better or make my product better. Maybe it wasn't shared the way I'd like it to be but I'm still better.
And at the same time being able to have people say, oh my god, this is amazing or even to take in the idea that someone walked by the booth and just never even stopped. They glanced at the words that we used to describe it and it didn't resonate with them. And so like it's so hard for me to be able to pinpoint a particular experience with feedback in that way because I've just had almost like a master class in really being this open microphone to passive and active feedback I was getting all the time. And I get better every day and I think of it that way.
Sara: I think that's one of the values on the product side of being in a conference setting with your direct users to be able to hear, this is one person's perspective, this is another person's perspective, this is another's, and also balancing like, I know it feels very strong for that one person, but is that accurate of our full demographic, right? And you can only know from the folks that share, but without having multiple perspectives of people sharing you won't know, is this everyone or is it just one person?
Obviously, there are other ways to kind of confirm what your end customers are looking for. But that's live, it's real, you can ask follow-up questions. It's not just like a form that gets submitted and like, oh, I wish I knew more. I wish I had more details. You've got them somewhat captive to be able to ask kind of those follow-up pieces. You know, just thinking about, how you can get to maybe what the core is or to understand them a little bit better. Let's pretend I'm out here giving wishes. When you're considering maybe one thing that you hope people would do better regarding feedback, what might it be?
Bronwen: To be open-minded to value. So, thinking about this as a nurse and now as a product manager, there are a lot of ways you can find value in someone's opinion. From a product, you can use it for persona building to improve a feature. From the floor, sometimes that feedback is something that we need to improve on the overall floor and you can't actually take action on it in that immediate moment.
And even all the way down to, I have a gut instinct. You just mentioned that yeah, you shouldn't completely change a feature because one person came up to you and went, "I hate this." But if you have the gut instinct already because you as a professional have gotten feedback to the point where you've maybe passively gotten feedback, you have this gut instinct but don't have solid evidence of it, that's also really useful. And so being able to shift your reaction to feedback as an opportunity for data gathering and to not always take it so deeply personally, do I want to have feedback because this is going to change the way that I'm personally acting or is this going to change the way that I interact with this person?
All of that is really useful and so rarely have I found it to be about the quality of that person, which I think some folks struggle with when it comes to feedback. So I think it's really open-mindedness. Because it would be a lot easier to be a sender if you weren't always so afraid that the way that the receiver is going to take it is going to be negative to the overall relationship you have with them. That it will hurt that shared project.
Sara: . And again, I like that separation of the personality. That person at the conference or your client whom you're working with, they're not saying that you are the problem. They're saying your device, your software, your equipment. Well, it may feel in the moment and maybe they're verbalizing it as you the person are the problem, but that's not really what the problem is. You're on behalf of your device, your product, your equipment. And sometimes those two get a little meshed. But how we separate that out and how we pull those parts together I think makes a difference when we're digesting from all that feedback that we received.
It's not about me. It's about the solution that we're trying to bring. it's the value that we're trying to show the customer and that's what they're giving feedback on. Maybe a mob, of course, part of it, but that's really what they're trying to share about and they feel strongly about.
Sara: With, kind of the last question of our time together today, Bronwen, can I offer you some feedback?
Bronwen: Okay. I should love it.
Sara: I know that we've had the opportunity to work together in a number of different ways through some volunteer work we've done, some different organizations in different kind of styles and approaches. And I've also been able to see your switch from being on the floor to then advising the floor, and now talking about strategy for the floor and being in product. And one of the things that I have found so valuable when talking with you and when hearing your perspective is that you have such a systems and whole-minded approach to thinking about how things fit together.
I know early when you were first making the shift from being in the hospital to providing services to the hospital, we talked a little bit about, how's this going to work? And I'm like, it's going to work because you can speak both languages. You can hear both sides. You can see the different perspectives. And I think that that is one of the things that in a way is like a superpower for you. Not only can you see the perspectives, but I know I've appreciated in different spaces the unapologetic truth-bringing that you do to the situation. If we're talking about something and we're going in circles for the 30 minutes at this point, you just call it out, right? Like, hear everyone's perspectives, know this is a tough choice, what do we need to do? Right?
And so I've been really grateful for that. And again, I've seen you help teams kind of zoom up, right? Zoom up and see that higher-level picture. I know we're talking about the situation. I know this one that instance feels hard, but let's bring it up. Let's think. What do we want to do at this systemic point? And again, tying back to earlier, what's the outcome we want? And I think that that's one of the things that makes you a fantastic clinician, makes you fantastic at the work that you're doing. That ability to do that translation, seeing those different perspectives and then helping other folks see kind of that bigger picture. I know I've been grateful for that and I hope that your colleagues also see that and the other spaces in which you operate. So, I wanted to say thank you for that.
Bronwen: Thank you very much. And at the earlier point in the conversation, there's a little part of me that I think got a little nervous as soon as I was like, yes, I would like your feedback because you do know me for such a long time that man, you could have given feedback on all sorts of things. So, I really appreciate how kind that was and how thoughtful you were. And I definitely, I don't know, it's going to supercharge my day. And I think that's one thing that's really beautiful about feedback and probably a little selfish of me as a person who prefers to be received is that if you think about it in the right way, man, a compliment is just as much as a feedback as a dismissal. And just be open to it. And man, it's going to change your life.
Specifically you in my life telling me that this wasn't as scary as this transition was, that I was going to be successful because you saw those kind of things in me even before I could see them in myself. Thank you.
Sara: Bronwen, 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@example.com and 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, 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.