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 welcomes Registered Dietitian and Health Coach Divya to the conversation! They talk about distilling the most important information in reacting to receiving feedback. While the feedback should be providing assistance and support for professional development and growth. It’s imperative to understand the why behind the improvement and provide guidance to make important changes, by using examples and recommendations. Subscribe to the podcast for new weekly episodes!
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 from the podcast today, Divya. She's a registered dietitian and health coach. Welcome to the podcast today.
Divya: Thanks, Sara. Great 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 is your gut reaction when you hear that?
Divya: Well, there was a time when hearing that would make me tense up. I'd get pretty anxious and I'd say to myself, "Oh boy, here we go." But now my gut reaction is actually more like, "Sure, what have you got for me?" I've definitely found that I take much better the feedback primarily because I've actually developed, I would say, a pretty good level of confidence in myself over time. Just being in the workforce so long and just growing up.
That's definitely helped me receive feedback a lot more maturely, professionally. I can accept feedback without taking it personally or letting it knock me down and receive it more objectively, process it through a more mature lens and now I feel like I'm better able to distill more important information from what I'm receiving, the most important information from what I'm receiving and not get lost in any sort of perceived attacks on my competence or character. And this is for both professional and personal feedback really. And believe me, I wasn't always like this. And it's been extremely liberating and I've been better for it to grow out of the way I used to react.
Sara: And I appreciate your sharing. There's been a lot of intentional effort and you're in this place now, but that doesn't make it easy. Right? It's just easier.
Divya: That's right. Always been growing.
Sara: It doesn't remove maybe the initial feel but...
Divya: It's a growing experience.
Sara: Absolutely. Which do you prefer to be the giver or the receiver of feedback?
Divya: I actually prefer to receive feedback. Primarily for the reason that I can control how I react to feedback, but I can't control how someone else may react to the feedback I provide, no matter how professional I might be in my delivery. And I think there is also far more to consider when giving feedback. For instance, the implications on a person's career and or compensation if you're conducting, say, a performance evaluation or an annual review. So there's a lot more at stake, a lot more pressure, I think, when you're giving someone feedback.
Sara: When you're thinking about the receiving side then, I'm curious, how do you ask for feedback or how do you reach out to make that happen?
Divya: I simply say, I'm interested in seeing how I've been doing lately and would love to review my metrics or any other performance-related data you might have. And if you could give me any feedback on how I can improve or perhaps extract more performance from my current position. I'm definitely about professional growth and just wanting to be my very best. So yeah, just going forth and saying like, can we review how I've been doing? Can we do a checkpoint so that I can kind of complete this year at my strongest, at my best?
Sara: Yeah. And I'm thinking about the space in which you've operated, either providing assistance, providing services, providing support for others, they're not necessarily the ones giving you the feedback, right? It may be a colleague, it might be a manager. I mean, not that you can't solicit feedback from either clients or customers or whatever their title may be, but it has a different perspective on the feedback you're receiving.
Divya: Oh, yeah, certainly. I think it's just about being open. Being open to being respectful, being kind, and I think giving people feedback, regardless if you're a superior or you're a healthcare provider. We should all know how we're doing. We should all be open to it so that we can get better. We don't know everything. I don't claim to know everything about nutrition or about being a health coach.
I have received feedback from clients previously about my delivery or how I approach my coaching and counseling. And I have grown from it. And I do believe that their feedback did actually help me be a better professional. So I appreciate that. I'm open to it. I welcome it.
Sara: Yeah. And you've kind of started to touch on this, but I'm wondering, how do you define or how do you think about meaningful feedback?
Divya: For me, meaningful feedback goes beyond just telling me what I can do better. I really am motivated by understanding the why behind the requested change. I think that's really important to give me some context about why that person feels that's important on what they feel it could help me get better at or enhance me personally or professionally. And then beyond that as well, if they have some suggestion or some guidance, some specific way that I could make that improvement, I am very receptive to that as well.
So not just saying like, you got to fix this, you got to improve it, but tell me how. Like, what do you think? What kind of suggestions do you have for me to get better, for me to make this change that you think is really important I follow through it? So I like that I can take something away from the conversation that I can actually work on so I can produce that desired performance improvement, and understanding the reason for the change is also motivating for me.
Sara: Could you maybe provide an example or share a little bit about of experience where you've either seen meaningful feedback delivered or you've experienced meaningful feedback?
Divya: Yeah. I'd say in my own experience, I appreciated the design of an annual review process at one of my previous employers. It basically combined everything that I just told you. We haven't touched upon this yet, but the way I like to give feedback if I were to give it, and I've learned this from this process that I went through was the sandwich method where you may have heard the sandwich method. You start with something positive, you discuss an area of improvement, and then you end with another positive piece of feedback.
So this process, this an annual review process that I went through did a lot of that. It started and ended with something positive. And even within each category of the evaluation, we were given something positive that we were doing as well as the area of improvement. We were also given suggestions for how to improve. So, I would always leave my annual review with a short list of achievable action items to help me improve my performance for the coming year.
I also felt appreciated because it was good to know that there were also some aspects of my work that my manager valued and wanted me to continue to bring to the job. So it wasn't all just like a slew of things that I got to do better. It was like, you have some really, really great characteristics and some assets that we value here that really make you shine and we love to see that at our company. So I got both. I got just a positive feedback of things that I'm doing well as an employee, but also what can I do for next year?
Sara: I love that you're providing a positive example of that feedback sandwich. I often find that it's a tool to mask the negative or critical feedback. And so, oftentimes I've seen it done where there's something positive, but then the critical feedback that gets inserted is so much more powerful or so much more emotional than, I guess, if we're using sandwich, the bread that's supporting it, right? Like you're putting two chips in between a meatball. It's just not going to support the weight.
Divya: I can totally see that.
Sara: But I love that you're sharing in this process that they used. The second component you shared was the examples and the recommendations. Example is where we saw it happen in the past, recommendation is idea for the future. And if you're just doing one, if you only do recommendations, you're not giving the context. If you only give the examples, you're not giving any suggestions. And you're just like, do better and don't do those things. You know, it's missing both sides.
Divya: Right. Two points on this. Totally understand the idea that, oh, this is sugarcoating it. The sandwich method sugarcoats the feedback-giving process. Well, for one thing, I think just receiving feedback is already, like I said, in the beginning, anxiety-inducing. It's already like, you already know whether it's positive or negative. You're sitting for your annual review. It's a nerve-wracking process. You're getting evaluated. So why can't we be positive? Why can't we be positive, say some nice things and bring down the tension?
It's also important to celebrate people as well for their accomplishments. It shouldn't all just be scary and you do this better and you don't do that right. But also, another reason why giving feedback is, to me, a little bit more difficult than receiving, I truly feel that it's an absolute art to be able to give feedback really well because in that sandwich that you talked about is about understanding the balance.
The positive should balance that area of feedback. You should be giving that. You should have the awareness and acumen to deliver that in that balanced way so that it doesn't feel imbalanced. Like I've got more negative things to talk about than positive. So it's an art. Giving feedback truly is an art and being aware of who you're giving it to and how they could react. A lot more at stake, a lot more pressure, a lot more to think about. But if all of those things are considered, you can have a really great session.
Sara: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. Now, I'm curious, and again, you've had the opportunity to be in the coaching and the advising and the mentoring, but also as a colleague, also as a supervisor of folks. If you thought people could do one thing better regarding feedback, what would it be?
Divya: So back to the point about recommendations on what someone can do to make things better. So the whole, this is what you can do better by providing those suggestions about how they can improve. I don't think it's fair, as an example, to throw someone in the water without a life preserver or at least some guidance on how they can stay afloat is how I see it.
So, the one thing that could really be done better is don't leave it at what to do better. It's how. You could help somebody feel so much more supported that way, and that the feedback is genuine and that someone really took time to think about how that person can thrive. It wasn't like, oh, you're on your own now. Take these points for what they are and you're on your own to get better. No, I want to see how Divya can do better. And I think here are one or two ways she can really make this change happen.
Sara: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. Absolutely. I'm curious, when you're thinking about being in a leadership position or in a position of authority, how have you tried to help the people on your team or that you're working with, in partnership with give feedback to each other?
Divya: Yeah. So I think for each other, I have previously when I was more in a management-type position, type role encouraged team members to go on like coffee dates or like lunch dates with each other, or in this case, it was more of a virtual thing. So virtual coffee dates at this time and have a casual setting where they could just chat and exchange ideas and comments for each other. So that was a more casual version of giving feedback.
But also we used to audit each other's coaching sessions. So either listen in on each other's sessions or observe each other do mock sessions. And it wasn't just supervisor or manager to employee. It was coaches giving each other feedback by listening to how each other coaches. And in that way, actually, people were getting some self-development too, because they would say, "Hey, that was a really great thing that you did there. I heard you say that to that client. I'm going to take that. That's awesome. I'd like to take that."
So both people were growing in that scenario from a manager supervisor type of a thing, the coffee dates, the lunch dates, sitting down individually with someone and saying like, "Hey, how are things going?" Because not everybody feels comfortable stepping forward, especially to a manager to share feedback. But I do know that everyone has something to say. So these meetings have a casual vibe, but they're still productive and they help to ensure that I am hearing from everyone and that everyone feels heard.
Sara: Again, you're in a unique space where folks can listen into and essentially observe the work of colleagues, but also knowing that they could have been the one on the call, right? And I like that you've mentioned how you combined getting to know the person right on the coffee date, as it were, and also hear how they do their job.
Because sometimes we're vastly different people in the personal space and then in our professional space, but what an opportunity that it sounds like you and your team had to be able to see more than one side of the colleague. Because even the person I work directly next to, if we're in the next desk over from each other, I may not get to see them do their job. Right?
Like I know what their job is, and I'm in media, but to see someone or hear someone do their job is unique in your field. And I think that it's a very different way to learn about someone and appreciate not only how they do it differently, but the choices that you make around, well, why do I do it that way? Why do I coach this way? Or why do I ask questions? Let me use this, use that. It's an unintentional or informal process sharing of the way that client service is delivered. So I really like that example you shared.
Divya: Thank you. Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, we don't know everything. We don't know everything, and it doesn't matter where we got our training or how much training or experience we have. There's always room for growth. And again, who's to say that the way I coach or counsel someone is the right way or the best way?
And in listening in on how, or shadowing other colleagues and seeing how they carry out their sessions, I'm frantically taking notes, because I'm like, that's a great way to ask that question or that's a great way to do this, but also providing areas of improvement as well. Because we do have experience that we can also share with the other person.
So it's such a great exchange of knowledge. And yes, we're calling it giving feedback, but it's not in that same way again of like, you need to do better and all these things. No, it's like, I'm also trying to grow here on my, and we're all here to get better. So, here are some suggestions for you, and here are my takeaways from what you just demonstrated in front of me.
Sara: Yeah, absolutely. Well, for our last question in our time together, Divya, can I offer you some feedback?
Divya: Sure. What have you got for me?
Sara: So, one of the things, and we've had the opportunity to, I guess work alongside each other and then work together and in an unusual kind of space in a board capacity. One of the things that I very much appreciated is, sometimes when there's a newer member on a team, they wait to participate. They hold back. They take their time. It's a cautious step. That's never been my experience with you, right?
I find that or I observe that you're at the table because you're at the table, and you're going to participate, you're going to show up, you're going to chime in, you're going to give your opinion because you're at the table, right? And that "being at the table" is on purpose and your voice is to be included.
And I very much value that even in conversations where people were delicately taking steps around how to approach something or what to do, you have a way of gently calling out the truth in the moment and pushing for, what's really going on? What do we need to say? I've heard you say things like, okay, but what are we trying to do? Like, let's get to it kind of thing.
And I think that that enthusiasm in the space or that energy to like, I'm here, I'm going to give it, is Unique. And I hope that your colleagues get to see that. I hope in the other spaces in which you sit, folks get to see that because I think it's a unique example of, as you touched on way back in the beginning, a confidence in the space that you're in, the contribution you can offer, and the opportunity for, we can do better than this and to do it in a way that doesn't feel like...
It feels like a safe push, but still a push, right? I'm going to push you to do a little bit better. I'm going to push us to talk about it, but it's together. I know I've been really grateful and appreciative of it. I know that I can count on you to just jump in and say the thing that folks maybe don't want to say. I know I've been very grateful for that and I hope others get to see that too.
Divya: Thank you, Sara. That was wonderful. I really do appreciate that. Thank you.
Sara: Well, Divya, 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 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.