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 Rachel, Managing Director of a consulting firm and CEO of a retail fashion brand. They talk about how sometimes it can be really exciting to receive feedback! Depending on the person who has prepared to share feedback with us, the experience can be an opportunity for transformation. Rather than being conflict avoidant, being open to feedback with excitement grants permission to learn from your mistakes. 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 for the podcast today, Rachel. She's a managing director of a consulting firm and CEO of a retail fashion brand. Welcome to the conversation today.
Rene: It's an honor and a pleasure to be here, Sara. Thanks for having me.
Sara: Absolutely. 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?
Rene: I think I may be an outlier, but I honestly feel kind of excited when you say that. And this is potentially pretty self-centered, but almost as if I'm about to hear some really juicy gossip. It tickles me to know that someone has spent time, like thoughtfully putting together intentional feedback about me or my performance or something that happened between us. And even if it's not exactly positive, I really appreciate the intentionality of the interaction and the engagement.
And then I also really like when someone asks for my consent. So, if it's before delivering news, I may or may not be ready for asking the question ahead of time is really key for me. It gives me a chance to say no, right? It gives me a chance to decline. But it also gives me a chance to prepare. So like, I really like to take notes when I'm getting feedback so I can read it later in case it's hard for me to hear or maybe I'm not as present as I want to be in the moment. So it gives me the space to do what I need to do.
Sara: Yeah. And I love that you're bringing up the idea of it is a little exciting that someone has prepared to provide you with, hopefully they've prepared. I mean, not everyone prepares. But hopefully, they've prepared.
Sara: And there is a little bit of that, you know, it's a, can I question. Not a, I'm jumping in and giving you the feedback whether you want it or not. And hopefully folks take the time to wait for the yes or the no or not today or not right now.
Rene: Right. Can we schedule this for a certain time? You know, sometimes people like to schedule feedback and I definitely understand that.
Sara: Absolutely. When you're thinking about that feedback, do you prefer to be the giver or the receiver of feedback?
Rene: I'm a switch. I like to give feedback because selfishly, I think, I keep saying selfishly, but you know, I guess feedback is about an exchange of selfish information. But it can help things along to align with my needs or expectations if the person receiving it is receptive to the feedback. And then, sort of as I mentioned earlier, I like to receive it because being accommodating where I can is important to me when I care about a person or a relationship. And so feedback can help me meet a person where they're at, which is often my goal and a big part of my personal ethos.
And I really like those little details. Whether it's like, you didn't show up for me the way I needed you to, or hey, I really prefer a phone call to an email. Any type of feedback I think can really help to improve any type of relationship as long as it can be like heard and received and respected. And so, I think the relationship and trust building created by reciprocal feedback fosters change on both ends and that ends up being really satisfying because it can help build a team better or create more impact with what you're doing.
Sara: And I'm hearing in that, I love that it needs to be reciprocal. Well, it doesn't need to be, but it's best when it can be that reciprocal feedback and it is satisfying, you know. And maybe that's perhaps going back to the question of, Why it feels so exciting to sometimes get that feedback. Because you've seen it work really well. You know, you've seen opportunities where it has been transformative or it can be something that's on the benefit of both sides.
Rene: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Sara: I'm curious to know, how do you define meaningful feedback.
Rene: I think that I would like to say that all feedback is meaningful, right? Even if somebody says something that gives you feedback without getting consent first, just like in passing, it might be gnawing on them for a really long time and them just sort of like getting out that side comment or something might really be helpful. But for me, meaningful often does equate to actionable. So like if you're telling me that my midwestern accent really annoys you, I mean like hard, but like I can't easily do anything about it. Whereas if you're saying like, I really wish you would do this in this way and that would be helpful to me because of X, that both is actionable and then also sort of explains the why.
And so I think defining meaningful by making something actionable and also providing some explanation is really helpful. So, I think parsing out sort of like what's a complaint about the parameters we're working within or what's a complaint about other people or parties involved might be different from what is actionable. And I love knowing what I personally can do differently, learn about, or grow into. I think that that makes something more meaningful to me.
Sara: I really like that distinction you're making between the complaint as you're kind of describing it, where I get you don't like it. Right? But I may not be able to do anything about that. You know, this is the process we're operating under. This is the system, this is the timeline. But if it's something I can do something about, we've got time to adjust, we've got the opportunity, I can deliver things in a different way, that I can do something with. But there's some level of where the feedback that you might be getting is more preference-oriented rather than there's something truly wrong.
Rene: Right. And please don't get me wrong, I love when myself and like a coworker, if we have a mutual annoyance and we both want to complain about that, I do think that that's valuable. It's just different. It's not feedback.
Sara: Right. Well, I think it's also a different kind of conversation. Like what about that client, that customer, that interaction that's happening? What about that is for us feeling as the complaint where we can't provide actionable feedback to them or we probably would have at that point? But it really is a preference or something that maybe we don't have the power or the authority or the control of the situation to be able to change. But, totally I agree. It can be very cathartic to go through that process as well.
Sara: I'm wondering, Rachel, if you could share an example or an experience where you've seen that meaningful feedback you were describing delivered.
Rene: Yeah, definitely And you know, I think this is maybe not like a typical interaction that I have from day to day. But as you know, I've had many careers and hobbyist endeavors throughout my life. A long time ago I took classes at a vegan culinary school. And there's something about that type of hands-on learning that makes feedback more digestible. That pun was not planned. I'm sorry. That was really bad.
Sara: It was an excellent pun.
Rene: I do not want any feedback on that pun. But because you're like in a room where everybody has sort of a similar experience, it's like amateur level, it's novice level experience and you expect that at the end of your four-hour class period, someone is going to look at and taste your food and give you feedback. You know, the culture is set up so that you're literally there to learn from your mistakes. And it does not feel personal. It feels totally okay to hear like, this has too much salt, or you didn't proof this dough long enough and so the rise is too low on this bread, you know.
Whatever makes that feedback happen is something that's usually actionable and you can learn from for next time to do better. So, the culture there is that you are given the permission to learn from your mistakes. And I don't think that that's true in every workplace setting or setting where you get feedback in a relationship where it's just like the point of the feedback is for you to grow and for you to get better at this thing you're interested in getting better at. And yeah, it's integral to how you learn for next time. Right?
Sara: I think that example of being in the cooking space is a perfect kind of highlight on why specificity is important. Right? You can say, I just didn't like it, but that doesn't help me make it better next time. Like, was it not salty enough? Was it too starchy? You get the opportunity with cooking or baking or preparing food that there's a set number of variables. Was it cooked too long? Was it cooked too short? Like, give me something I can do with that. And as you're saying, it is very action-oriented whereas the more subjective complaint of, well, it just wasn't to my taste. Okay, fine, but like, what shall I do with that data? You know, like, thank you. But it's not quite as productive as it could be. If I was in the business of giving out wishes, and I know, imagine a universe where that's true. But I could change and have people do one thing better regarding feedback. What would you hope it would be?
Rene: Mm-hmm. I feel like it's really tough for me. Can I offer you some feedback on this? The limitations of this question. I need to give you two. I need to give you two things I think, because just even through our conversation here, I feel like I'm realizing that it's just as important to create intentional space for consistent feedback. And I think it's just as important as what I'm going to say for like my number two or whatever.
But I think that that's sort of something that we bump up against a lot in our work currently, where, you know, we will see sort of a supervisor really wait to give feedback to someone they work with. And then it comes time for like a year-end evaluation and that person is shocked because they're like, this thing happened seven months ago or like, I don't even remember that thing happening. And so without that space for intentional and consistent feedback where you're meeting every couple of weeks or once a month and you can say, "Hey, this thing happened recently. Can we unpack it a little bit together?" You know, it doesn't add up to a big amount of negative feedback at the end of a timeframe, right? It's consistent. And I think that that is truly important.
The thing that I think of first is timeliness of feedback. And so really, I feel like there are a lot of people who are like conflict avoidant. I run into this with people I coach all the time, and they'll say something to me like, "Oh, you know, so-and-so's stepbrother just got eaten by a giant lizard, and so now it's not like a good time to give the feedback," when like really if you respect a person, keeping it on the level with them is really important to like the fidelity and trust within your relationship. And maybe that person did just experience a giant lizard tragedy, but if they're back to work and they're engaged, maybe part of your feedback ends up being like, "Hey buddy, I'm noticing you're not quite ready to be back at work at full speed after lizard [inaudible 00:13:35]" and like, how can we work together to strategize a ramp up back into a regular workload, including meetings where we have consistent feedback.
So, I think you have to just pre-plan those sessions and do regularly scheduled check-ins and not put it off because of whatever reason it is. You know, certainly, there are times in people's lives where like you should ask if they're ready to talk and you should ask if they want feedback, and that's important. But I don't think that waiting and holding the feedback back serves anybody.
Sara: I think the connection between the conflict avoidance and the desire not to give feedback it doesn't have to be a conflict-oriented conversation.
Rene: Right. So many people see it like they... I hear all the time, I don't want to make waves. And it's like, this is not a wave, you know.
Sara: Nor does it have to be. Right?
Sara: I mean, it could be a wave in the way you do it. Sure. But I think folks giving feedback, positive, negative, whatever the spin ends on it is sometimes hard. And avoiding the hard thing doesn't make it less hard. In fact, it makes it more hard because you haven't been delivering the message and now this person is surprised or you've increased your discomfort over time.
Rene: And that is going to erode trust. If there was ever trust there, it's going to erode the trust. I don't expect anybody to trust me right off the bat, but I do like to work toward building trust as part of my ethos and relationships. Whether that be a business relationship or a personal relationship or both, that is really how I like to move toward each other.
Sara: Excellent. Well, Rachel, for our last question, in our time together, can I offer you some feedback?
Rene: I have my notebook here. Yeah, I'm ready.
Sara: Excellent. I wanted to share, you know, one of the things that I very much appreciate and we've had the chance to work together as colleagues on a project. I sometimes identify you as my supervisor, even if you don't always do. And depending on the conversation and the client that we're working with, it just depends. But the concept and some folks are familiar with it, the idea of radical candor where we care personally and challenge directly. I often think of you when I'm describing that to folks. And you know, the model, the side Kim Scott's model, I really feel like whenever we have conversations where you're giving me feedback, I'm giving you feedback, we're giving feedback about a client, you know, whichever space we're sitting in, you have a way of showing me the other party that you truly care about them, their best interest, getting what we can out of the conversation, and tell them what they need to hear. Right? It may be uncomfortable. We may not want to do it. It may be real talk as it were.
But I really respect and am grateful for your ability to do both of those very well. And I think that, and you also know many folks are not great at doing both. How do I show you I care? How do I actually hold you accountable or challenge you to whatever it is that you're providing? And so, that's something that I've been really grateful for. I know I ask for feedback a lot and vice versa. But I hope that others get to see that as well. Whether it's folks that you're coaching, other clients that you're working with, you've got your consulting hat on, or you've got your CEO hat on. I really think that that is a superpower that you have and I hope others get to see that as well.
Rene: That means so much to me. Thank you so much.
Sara: Well, Rachel, 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. We would love to hear from you on your thoughts on feedback, or any other perspectives you'd like to hear from next. And 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.