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.
Feedback looks different in different environments. Today we’re joined by James who has extensive experience in athletics and team development. In either setting, feedback has to be constant and specific. While in a professional setting, feedback provided with examples and details are very important. No matter the territory, for feedback to be meaningful it has to come from a place of trust and desire for someone to be better. 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, James. He's got extensive experience in athletics and higher education development. Welcome to the conversation today.
James: Thanks, Sara. Really happy to be here.
Sara: 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?
James: My gut reaction to that is I get automatically a little bit defensive if I'm being honest, and that's just me, and then I start to think about it. And I thought about this question in terms of, what is feedback? And for me, when I was a college football coach, feedback happened all the time constantly on the field, the communication between players and coaches. There was constant feedback. And we didn't even think of it as feedback just because it was so natural to us. So, when I stopped to really think about the question and I think about feedback that I was constantly getting on a daily basis, it's a good thing because without it we could not function as a team, literally.
Sara: Yeah. And you've been on both sides of that I know from your experience. When you think of that, do you prefer to give feedback or to receive feedback?
James: I think both are very important in different ways. I think that you have to have both. You can't just be the giver of feedback or the receiver of feedback because I just don't think it works that way. But for me, I think it's important when I'm giving feedback that it's clear and direct, especially in an environment like football where things are moving very quickly all the time. So if you stop to give them a soliloquy, the moment is passed. So it has to be clear and direct. And I think in a more professional setting, what I'm in now, not that football is not professional, but in a more professional setting like development, I think I've been very lucky to be around people that agree with that. That sit down and kind of layout, hey, here's the agenda, this is what we're going to talk about, and then they go into detail. I think examples are really, really important. I think they help me. I don't know if they help you. So I think it just really depends on the environment you're in and what feedback looks like in that environment.
Sara: Yeah. I love that you bring up specifically, you have such large experience in the football space both as a player, but also on the coaching side. Feedback has to be immediate in that context, right? You can't say to someone a week later, "Hey, in the game last week you should have done blank different," you have to tell them now so they can make the adjustment now for the next play, for the next quarter, whatever it's going to be. So, it is a shift and I appreciate. The work you're doing is very different. You're not on a field. You're just in a different setting. And so the way feedback is delivered is different. When you're thinking about meaningful feedback, how would you define that or kind of break that down?
James: That's a really good question. I think meaningful feedback, I think there has to be some trust involved in the relationship. Everybody gets feedback from people that don't know. It's part of any job I think. Especially if you're a person that's out front, you're going to get feedback whether you want it or not. But I think meaningful feedback has to come from a place of trust where you're around people that you believe in, that believe in you, and there's a trust built there. So I think it's really important to have that aspect. And then I also think, like I said earlier, I think meaningful feedback needs to come from a place where you want this person to be better so that the whole organization can be better. I think when it comes from that place instead of, "Oh man, this person did a really poor job in this, I need to tell them right now," I don't think it works as well.
Sara: Can you share an example of maybe when either you've observed, you've seen that meaningful feedback delivered, or perhaps you've been the recipient of it?
James: I think one of the best people I've seen give feedback is a former coach I worked with named Ken Delgado. Ken has coached literally at every level of football from the division one college level to the professional level. And I had a chance to work with him a few years ago. And he was just so direct and precise with his feedback. He was a defensive line coach. Defensive line play is very, very technical. It's feet, it's hands, it's body position, and so he was able to see something on the field, to see a play and to be able to give that meaningful feedback in terms of, here is specifically what I want you to do. Your left foot was dragging behind you or your right hand wasn't in the right place. And so he was able to give this very specific and detailed feedback in a way that the players trusted him and they knew it came from a place, "if I listen to Coach Delgado, I am going to get better". And they did. So, his years of experience helped him, but it was so good and I can see why he's been in the profession so long and why he's so good at what he does.
Sara: I love that you're connecting, and I know you mentioned it earlier that the specificity and the clarity is super important. So that people know exactly what you're talking about. I mean, imagine you had a coach that at the end of the day was just like, "Do better," you're like, "What?"
James: Exactly. Yeah.
Sara: And I'm sure there's a coach out there who's doing that and it's not working so well. But to be able to build that relationship with the player in the moment where you're giving them some of that feedback, that specificity shows, I'm seeing you, I'm watching you. I recognize what you're doing, here's the small adjustment, or here's the big adjustment. But I'm making it really explicit.
James: Yeah. And kind of the rule of thumb, especially in a sport like football and probably in higher ed as well, and what I'm learning is that the more specific the feedback is, the better you're doing. Because it's not just some broad brushstroke, it's very detail-oriented. And that's, I think as someone who gets feedback a lot, especially now, knowing that when we're having those very specific detail-oriented conversations, for me, I'm in a head space of, "oh, I'm doing this right". We're just talking about the finite little tiny details.
Sara: Right. Yeah. It's a small correction. It's not a huge, just like, "Hey, could you just not be you."
Sara: It's like, "Hey, could you just like adjust this one thing?" And that would make a huge difference. And I think knowing that helps. Again, ties back to that trust that you're mentioning. If you had a wish granted, and you're thinking about if people could just do one thing better regarding feedback, what would it be?
James: I think it really depends on the field you're in. Like, for example, I can speak as a football coach and as a development professional now. From the football aspect of it, I would love to see more coaches before they give the feedback to just take a breath really quick, process things a little bit more, and then come back with specific things in a way that is meaningful, that is like we talked about, detail-oriented. Because I think that's when the best feedback happens. When you're giving them specific things to do instead of, you mentioned this as well, run faster, play harder. But how do they do that? I think in the development world, what I'm learning, and I'm learning a lot every day, is that the best feedback that I've gotten so far is a lot of one-on-one interactions, a lot of very direct and specific interactions. And that works really well for me. I'm lucky because that seems to be the department that I've put myself in. So they're great. And it's feedback that I think a lot of times you can use consistently if that makes sense. It's not just for this one small, tiny thing. It's like, you can maybe paint a broader picture with this and other things you do as well.
Sara: Yeah. I love that as a way to think about the connection between the two. So thank you for sharing that.
James: Yeah, absolutely.
Sara: For our last question in our time together, James, can I offer you some feedback?
James: Absolutely. Let's do it.
Sara: So I'd love to share with you one of the things that I feel that I've benefited from in our relationship and the feedback that you provide is, you have an openness and an appreciation for 10 other angles that I haven't even thought of. You are able to see things, at least from my perspective, from, I'll pick on our Marvel references that we have, a multiverse of approaches. But I love that you have that ability to see what that other person might be thinking, what the other angle might be, what the other thing that that person might be considering. And it's still grounded in the relationship of the one-on-one interaction that you're having. And I think that that's so helpful. That multifaceted awareness and empathy of others and the other perspectives that might be at play, but also knowing what's the best way to deliver it to me? What's the best way to have that move forward? And I've been really appreciative of it. I know that that's been super effective when you've been working with the athletes that you've been connecting with and in all other aspects of your life as well. But I think that that is such an underappreciated skill that you have that ability to see across multiple lenses of what a person might be feeling or thinking. And I think that's a superpower that you have. So thank you for that.
James: Well, thank you, Sara. I really appreciate that.
Sara: Well, James, 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 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. And I'm hoping that tomorrow you take a chance and offer some feedback when it's needed most.