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The Everything Else | The One About Feedback

 How did you feel the last time you received feedback? And when was the last time you were on the giving end?

Feedback makes people feel a little squirmy, and the harsh consequence is that sometimes we run away from it.

In today’s episode, Vera and Mer jump into the black hole of #feedback, with some practical tips on how to make it work for you and your team.

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Episode Script

Mercedes:Hello helloooo, thanks for tuning in to The everything Else podcast, this is season 3 – I’m Mer 

Vera: I’m Vera,  and this episode right here is the one about feedback.

Mercedes: Ahh, feedback, I can feel managers squirming in their seats. There IS something about feedback that makes everyone a little uncomfortable…  My guess is that we’ve been getting it wrong for a while… have you ever had any difficult experiences with feedback?

Vera: My take is that feedback is associated with criticism, to being caught red-handed on what I did wrong. Has it been like that for you?

Mercedes: I’ve had all sorts of experiences, wonderful feedback, and curl up in a ball and cry feedback.  And I’ve given looots of feedback – are you good at giving feedback?

Vera: I don’t think there is such a thing as “good at giving feedback” … I like the way I give it, though I must say that for some I’m seen as “soft”.  I don’t know honestly if it’s me, it’s the other person, or the alchemy… But I’ve seen people capitalizing my input, saying it caught on, and being referred to what we talked about as transformative input, and others, listening to me and not identifying something “useful” in all the things I said, or saying “I said nothing”. 

Mercedes: Mmm… that message needs adjusting then, right? This is a great starting point, knowing that feedback will have to be adjusted depending on the receiver.. to be honest, I’ve had to put work on feedback, particularly the constructive one at work – because good feedback rolls off my tongue, but the other one… I tend to sugarcoat everything… And I guess, since we’re being honest because this might be helpful for others, that I used to think that it was because I was nice, you know, I care about people, so I don’t give negative feedback.. but I’ve learned it’s not so much about being nice, but rather of being afraid – so, if you resonate with this,  it’s well worth putting in the time to improve this skill. 

Vera: Oh oh! maybe this is what was happening to me too…

Mercedes: Well… yes, and it’s an eye-opener when you realize that if you actually care, then you give that constructive feedback, you look out for the other person and point out areas of improvement. 

Vera: Caring about people means that you have to be honest – and this is difficult – sometimes we think that the best way to care for people is to protect, or even overprotect them so you don’t talk to them about the issues you have. But honesty is the best way to show you care – now.. honesty and saying whatever comes to mind is not the same. Saying what needs to be said and doing it in time is a bit of an art form I’d say.

Mercedes: Totally.. ok so, let’s have a look at what feedback is before we move on – 

Vera: Definitions, please!

Mercedes: You know what, before your definition, can we see what feedback is not? I feel like there’s a roadblock there.  like, feedback is not advice.

Vera: Absolutely, and feedback is not your judgment. I feel like feedback is such an overused word.. to say “I’ll give you my opinion”

Mercedes: Oh god. can I give you some feedback, is like “we need to talk” in couples, right? your heart starts racing, you know it’s coming. 

Vera: So what is feedback? is it just support? is it rooting for somebody?

Mercedes: No, it’s not just praised either. I think it helps to think of feedback with the definition in communication, right, in a general sense.

Feedback is the last stage of communication that occurs when the output of a system is used as input back into the system so in essence, it’s the response to the intended message, how your actions (your job, your presentation, your words, your efforts), how did that impact the receiver (your boss, your teammates, your clients, your spouse, your friend)? 

Vera: What were the implications

Mercedes: Exactly, how were they translated? Are these impacts  aligned with your objective? and it’s the feedback that allows you to adjust the message, your future actions

Vera: That’s key right there, because that is the objective of feedback, adjusting the message, i.e your actions and efforts so that you can reach that objective you had. 

Mercedes: So, burning questions… How often should feedback happen? Trinet, the HR services provider had a really interesting study about feedback, and one of the results was that 74% of millennials at work felt “in the dark” about how managers and peers viewed their performance. 

Vera: So frequency is an issue… but what is the ideal frequency?

Every week? 

Every time it is needed?

At first much more often? 

Twice a year? 

Mercedes: At first more often for sure, to make sure there is alignment – we can think about this in sailing, you might start off a few degrees off your course on a trip, and if you correct it quickly you can get back on track easily – but if you don’t correct it, and the trip is long, those few degrees, in the long run, meaning you will be majorly off course at the end, in another destination even…  and the same happens with feedback. 

Vera: I have fought this question so many times! To me, feedback is continuous… You know? A smile, a thank you, a conversation on something that felt off… And is not a special meeting.

So, when the “formal feedback meeting” comes -as in the parallelism of the “we need to talk the talk” you more or less know where you are. If you didn’t know.. or what is being brought up is completely unknown to you.. something is off with this communication. 

And this might be something that as a therapist is quite obvious.. but it is the importance of talking about the here and now. About the value of revising and checking in periodically on the other, on myself, and on the relationship. This takes time, and it pays off dedicating time to it.

Mercedes: This is intrinsically linked to motivation – at a moment when we’re seeing record numbers in disengagement, and we’re talking about quiet quitting, etc. It’s essential that we think about how people can feel appreciated, and many studies point to the fact that younger generations, millenials and gen z in particular need to feel appreciated.

Vera: Don’t we all? I mean.. this is something that now we are aware that is relevant, that we dare to experiment with and bring to the workplace in this search for feeling more humanized while we are working, but humans we have a need for appreciation, security, support.

Mercedes: Well it speaks about the major shift we’re seeing at work and in work relationships for sure. 

Vera: Then why is it associated with saying how valuable you are to the company in terms of salary,  or grades, or passing or not passing a course in the case of teachers? Sorry.. it frustrates me a bit because I too get the phrase “I did not have feedback”.. to the point that in one of my teams we laugh and say #thisisfeedback…

So.. one idea to highlight today: feedback is not evaluation.

Mercedes: It might mean we also have to be receptive to feedback in this broad sense of communication, being open to the impact of what you’re doing and taking it as input even if it’s not formal feedback, it can be body language, a passing comment.

Vera: Which in turn can be a little bit more complicated nowadays what with remote work,  turned off cameras, and muted team members.. there’s not always input in return.

Mercedes: Very very true. We have to be more explicit about it, don’t we… Ok, let’s elaborate a little on this difference, and go back to those definitions we were talking about. Generally speaking, there are  at least three types of feedback – appreciation, coaching, and evaluation (that formal, end-of-year feedback we all think about, is more evaluative, right?)

feedback is not a bad word. Appreciation is a type of feedback… it rewards and recognizes the good you’ve been doing, it’s motivating, it connects people, and it even wakes up intrinsic motivation. 

Vera: This is why it’s best when it’s ongoing… as a way of acknowledging what is a strength for the other person. Maybe he or she does not see it, does not appreciate it as much in him or herself, or maybe it’s something he or she takes for granted. 

This is not just the public KUDOS, you know? This can be a private conversation, a heartfelt thank you for bringing what you bring to the table, Thanks for being here…I am glad you are part of the team! a big smile. It is appreciative because this is deeply connected with gratitude, with the fact of celebrating together what happened, what you did, that we are in this together. It’s an appreciation that what happened is not the default way, what had to be done. It sees the beauty, the extraordinary. It makes you feel special. And sure this ignites our intrinsic motivation because it gives us tools to keep knowing ourselves better, and seeing our own potential, it connects us with what makes us us.

It’s a moment when you feel seen. Not one more, but someone. Not anyone. You. 

Mercedes: That was moving Vera, you got me there. I felt inspired and it wasn’t even about me. 

Alright, 2nd type of feedback.. coaching. This is related to helping someone adjust, align, improve, and expand – it’s an outside perspective on what or how something can get better.  

Vera: For this one to be valuable, there needs to be a good match, don’t you think?

A coach who sees potential in you, who is a believer. But also who sees the bigger picture so they can point you in the right direction, and a coachee who can hear and take in that what can be improved does not cancel what was appreciated of you. It is not one or the other. It is one because of the other. 

Mercedes: Yes. and that also has a lot to do with delivery though, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The 3rd type of feedback was Evaluation- this is about assessing, and seeing how someone is performing in reference to a standard or expectation of some sort. This is the only type of feedback that is based on roles.. the other types of feedback can be bidirectional – as a leader, you can give or receive it. or ideally, that is the case. (quick disclaimer here, you and I work in very modern work settings.. but, some listeners might be scoffing at the idea)  let’s be clear on the fact that the majority of people do not work in places where bidirectional feedback is taken well, or even imagined as a possibility…)

Vera: That’s a good point.  so, this evaluative feedback you mentioned, is the one most people talk about when they think of feedback, don’t you think? Like, how was it? Was it good for you? this one compares you to an external standard. To people, you admire, to the expected profile.. to ideas. To ideals. This is the expectations versus reality meme. 

Mercedes: Hahahah, LinkedIn vs the messy reality… 

Vera:  Finding the differences between one and the other. It reminds me a lot of the conversation around assessment in education. Teachers talk about teaching skills, and continuously assessing skills.. and yet, at a point parents and even students want, to demand the standardized test result. 

Mercedes: Grade meeeeeeee!  Alright, now.. in essence, what’s important in the coaching or evaluation feedback is that it has to be constructive.. not negative (even though, we have to acknowledge, that what we regularly get is not constructive) what constitutes constructive feedback? and by the way… just criticizing something and saying – I’m saying this in a constructive way – doesn’t make it constructive. 

Vera: I think for it to be constructive, it needs to be loving, appreciative of who you are, and inspiring, showing you more than you see for yourself with a clear guide of how to get closer to that aspiration

Mercedes: I’m with you on that one. it takes on your blindspots, but it’s meaningful-   with a clear objective of actually getting the message across to the other person so that changes can effectively be made – just vomiting your opinion is not constructive feedback, it’s like that saying:  feedback can make you BITTER or BETTER.. if it makes you bitter it’s not constructive

Vera: I need that t-shirt! 

Mercedes: I saw it in a meme, like everything worthwhile in life.

Vera: Of course.. no within that spirit, of being constructive…  some things need to be said, as corrections of errors.. in the workplace, as when teaching grammar, some things you say or do, you don’t even know should not be done… it’s part of the learning process… it fucking the first time our friend Brene Brown says.. and it is not that you did something wrong. You are LEARNING.. experimenting. It needs to be pointed out so you can capitalize that mistake not make it twice.. another iteration.

Mercedes: In reference to this constructive feedback, there’s interesting research by Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada that points out a magic ratio in reference to the positive and constructive feedback: 5 to 1 for every negative, 5 positives…

Vera: It makes sense.. without the first two… appreciation and coaching, the relationship is not established, I have not earned that role, where you’ll trust that what I am saying comes from good intentions, and you don’t let your guard down.. You’ll be defensive. It will be harder for you to understand that the good is seen too.. and you’ll tend to defend yourself. 

Mercedes: The relationship between the people involved is very important.

Vera: You know, in therapy we talk about transference. If the basis of the relationship is solid.. then we can have the most profound conversations, and we can question the most unquestionable things… but this does not happen from one day to the next, or.. by not respecting the time when the other person is ready to hear what I have to say.

Mercedes: When I was reading about this I remembered some research by John Gottman,  He studies healthy relationships and he had a magic ratio to predict healthy and happy couples – and he measured interactions between a couple and you know what the ratio was? five to 1 also – 5 positive interactions to 1 negative… which goes to show, yet again, that feedback at work is just a relationship, and like any other relationship, it needs some vitamins to grow so that it can survive the tough weather. And, much like the tough weather and storms, negativity is very powerful or impactful, which is why it takes some positive ones to make up for the other ones. 

Vera: God! I love these golden rules! They are creative ways of saying things!

But you know, this is so.. a way of predicting or determining the health of a relationship has to do with how crystallized the roles are. Am I the one who is most of the time thanking the other? Am I the one who is constantly seeing the potential in the other? Am I the one always calling the chances of improvement?

At a point… if these don’t vary, if they don’t circulate.. the relationship will become tense, and it won’t be enriching both ways… It’ll stop being a two-way street. 

Mercedes: Good point.., this has to be dynamic. We talked about this in teams, and in rebranding.. and I love that you mentioned roles because this brings us to another burning question on the issue of.. giving feedback – is that a leadership role? Can everyone give anyone feedback?

Vera: Sure!

Mercedes: Why not right, it’s free! haha.

Vera: In IT  this is constant. Ask for feedback. People many times give unwanted feedback. and I must say that I have trouble many times with that.. because it can be untimely.. or it’s said by someone who I don’t even know at times… and this means I don’t trust him or her… or don’t know his or her credentials. It is not someone who (for some reason) I look up to and understand I could learn from.

Mercedes: HBR published an interesting article called the fallacy of feedback, and it mentioned a common assumption that feedback works because you’re getting feedback from someone who is the TRUTH HOLDER, and this is SO not always the case.

Vera: I remember once, I was doing an internship as a therapist, and I was highly critical of the therapists who were running the place. I wanted to implement many changes… and I was really convinced about it.. these were some things that mattered a lot to me, and they kind of still do…

So, when the time came, I did not fully adapt to what was expected of me. 

When my evaluation came in, it was not great. Because I was being measured based on an expectation I did not fully agree with. 

But when my grade came in I was disappointed.. and I remember having a hard time understanding that I was trying to get approval from people or ways that I did not approve of.

So, it is important to listen to feedback.. but we need to be aware that not all feedback is equally valuable for us.

Mercedes: And I guess sometimes bad feedback from someone you think is doing everything wrong, might not be such a  bad thing, right?

Vera: Yeah.. but is it true that that person is doing eeeeeeverything wrong? 

Mercedes: Of course not, but you and I  know more than well that sometimes we have to rebel. because we know better – or at least we think we do, and so you rebel, like you did at uni, and then you deliver, to prove that you were right in rebelling, and you show your results to those who provided feedback you didn’t agree with. and it could be someone you highly respect, but in certain areas, you just don’t see eye to eye- and you work hard to prove your point, and hopefully install change or acceptance.

Alright, so, I think we’ve rambled enough about feedback, shall we move to a more practical part? listeners are probably wondering ok but how do I do it? How can  I listen better?

Vera: Alright let’s get to the hacks.

  1. Mercedes: If you’re giving feedback before you open your mouth think about what you want to achieve. Do you want to build a bridge, or do you want to throw a bomb? because we’re human, and sometimes we want to be that girl in the meme setting the house on fire, you know, it’s valid and it happens… that feeling of ah, fuck it. – but that’s NOT constructive feedback. so if you want to build a bridge – strategize, think about what you’re going to say, who you are saying it to, and what would be the best way to do it. take the time (and sometimes this can take a lot of time) to try and get your message across.

2. Vera: Start with something positive – lay the ground for the person to be open and receptive – hey, I noticed that you’re making an effort to improve your listening skills, that’s great, and it’s making a great impact, but I also noted that when Mary blamed you for not closing the deal you got a little nervous and raised your tone a little…  I see you bUT…or because I see you…

3. Mercedes: If you have specific feedback find a framework to help you: I like the SBI™ feedback tool crafted by the Center for Creative Leadership because it‘s pretty aligned with the Non-Violent Communication framework in some aspects. SBI™ stands for Situation, Behaviour, and Impact or implications as you mentioned today. You start by outlining the situation so that the context is clear and specific. For our example, let’s set an example that we’ve spoken about before – which is my tendency to use foul language… 

Vera: Haha you had to bring it up

Mercedes: This is just to make you uncomfortable.. so context-wise we’d say.. the last episode when we spoke about teamwork, 

Then you talk about the behavior: the precise behavior that you want to address.  No judgment, clear measurable, and observable – avoid the temptation to interpret what happened, instead offer exactly what you saw, so we would say the last episode when we spoke about teamwork you said the word SHit three times…

Vera: You realize you just said it again. the word.

Mercedes: Well, we’re saying it has to be specific, so we have to say it specifically instead of you’re a grown-up Mer, you’re always using inappropriate language, it’s unprofessional. That is the story you’re telling yourself. . In feedback the story you’re telling yourself is not important, and it’s a roadblock.

And then impact… which s where you highlight the impact of the person’s behavior on you, the team, and the organization -so what would that look like.

Vera: Mer,  Last episode when we spoke about teamwork you said the word SHit three times, and some people were concerned that it would put listeners off.

Mercedes: Alright. good job there didn’t it feel nice when you said it.. just saying, it’s cathartic.

Vera: It’s honest and it makes reference to something that is alive in us. I’d like to add that it might feel robotic,

Mercedes:  The framework or saying the foul language?

the framework! but in practice, it’s not, and it’s important to add emotions if they come up, because that’s part of the impact. You might be surprised that it sounds short because we’re used to adding all the stories we tell ourselves, but in this case, keeping it concise is important – you can share the story you tell yourself with your partner, boss, or friend. 

4. Vera: If you don’t have specific feedback you can use other frameworks like the KEEP STOP START one where you list things the person should keep doing, should start doing, and stop doing. 

5. Mercedes: If you’re listening to feedback and you’re having a tough time or it gets intense.  you can try and drown out the noise by repeating mantras – Brene Brown mentions this like – there’s something valuable here, like not taking everything in, but trying to see past the roadblocks. You can even try a metacognition exercise, this is what I understood, is that correct? or ask for specificity – can you give me an example?

Vera: Sometimes receiving feedback moves us, and its important to address that – maybe mentioning hey, look, I’m crying but I’m listening, sort of owning what’s happening, don’t turn the camera off, it’s part of the conversation, own it and make room for it.

7. Mercedes: If your leader doesn’t give you feedback – ask for it! point to the not-mets, ask them to point something out in the next presentation- ask for coaching- people think feedback needs to be evaluative. there’s a gap in perception between what people want and what leaders think they want.

Many times people say they want feedback, they need coaching, guidance advice even appreciation or acknowledgment of their difficulties.  

8. Vera: So another tip would be: to ask for feedback in a meaningful way. This is something for your development, and this requires a growth mindset. Be specific about your needs. If you need approval, ask did you like it? ..  when looking for advice, ask for advice. 

Mercedes: Good, like a good call to action – hey, I’d like you to listen to the episode and I’d like to receive feedback – meaningful feedback for me would be on what sparked your interest in the topic, what made you laugh or smile, what you disagreed with.

Vera: Exactly!!  and with that said. dear dear listeners, we thrive on your feedback,  the meaningful one, so please let us know what you thought!

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