Episode 36 - Feedback


Peter: Hello, Jennifer.

Jen: Hello, Peter.

Peter: It dawned on me just this morning, as I was walking in the freezing cold from my house to the coworking space, that we've never done a specific episode on feedback, even though you and I talk about it a lot, and we basically live and breathe an existence centered around giving, receiving, compartmentalizing, or ignoring feedback.

Jen: Yeah. This seems like a very big topic. I think we should do it. My feedback for you in this moment is that I appreciate you bringing this up. I'd love to encourage you to go for it, because you are among the best of the best when it comes to giving and receiving feedback.

Peter: That was masterful. This is The Long and The Short Of It.

Jen: See what I did there was, I used all three.

Peter: I know. So this, that's where we're going to start. Given what you just did, which many of our listeners may not have picked up on the subtleness of the, the feedback that you just gave me in the intro, could you please describe what just happened, how you structured that, and why we both found it so entertaining?

Jen: Yes. I mean that was basically the best nerd humor of 2019.

Peter: One of those things that only you and I could find humorous in the moment because our nerd levels' at three-thousand.

Jen: Oh my gosh. Yeah, the nerd level is high. I was essentially referencing one of my favorite books of all time: Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well *even when it's off-base, unfair, poorly delivered, and, frankly, you're not in the mood by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, and the book - I'm, I'm lifting up my copy for you right now. Peter, can you describe to the listeners what you see?

Peter: Oh my gosh, I see a rainbow, listeners. I see a rainbow of sticky notes that are bookmarked on what appears to be every second page.

Jen: Yeah, it's, I've probably taken more notes in this book than I have in any other book that I own. So, essentially, what they break down is that there are three different kinds of feedback: appreciation, coaching, and evaluation. And all three are important, all three are useful. And what is most useful is when you, the giver or the receiver of the feedback, when you are able to sort them into their appropriate designations. So essentially, appreciation lets someone know that you see them. It says, "You're doing a good job, keep going." Coaching exists to help someone get better at what they do, and requires skill on both sides of that process. And evaluation essentially lets you know where you stand when you are held up against similar people in similar positions. So, what tends to happen when we are feeling emotionally triggered is that we forget that there are different kinds of feedback, and we take them all personally as a direct comment on whether or not we are worthy of living.

Peter: Yes. And we fail to realize that it might be coaching or evaluation. Okay. So this is so juicy. I could take this in so many different directions. How do you think about which of the three you're going to deliver, and is it a matter of calling out to the individual, "Hey, I'm about to give you some coaching," or "Hey, I'm about to give you some evaluation," or, "Hey, I'm about to give you some appreciation." Which I guess, now that I say that out loud, would be helpful if they've read the book, but as evidenced by our nerdy joke, not everyone's going to understand. So is it useful to think about saying that up front? Is it that you just keep that in mind for yourself when you're thinking about feedback, or do you, how do you use that?

Jen: Well, this answer is my own answer - I'm not taking this from the book, this is just how I operate. If the feedback that I'm going to give someone is unsolicited, I will always start with appreciation. I am not going to go in and give someone coaching or evaluation unsolicited without first letting them know that they are valuable, that they are seen, that they are heard, that I appreciate them taking the time to hear me out, whatever it is. My only rule for this, for myself, is that the appreciation has to be true; that I can't just make it up to try to butter someone up. So if I'm about to give some very harsh feedback, and I'm feeling emotionally triggered by whatever the situation is, I'm not going to come in and say, 'You're my favorite person in the world," if that's not true. But what I can say is, "I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me," because that is true.

Peter: Yeah.

Jen: However, if the relationship has structured so that feedback is part of our agreement, then I don't feel the need to start with appreciation. Like, if someone has come to me for a coaching session, I'm just going to coach them.

Peter: Right.

Jen: And sometimes I can tell that they need a little appreciation, so I'll make sure to call that out, but it depends on the circumstance, whether or not you need to start with something to help the person to really hear you.

Peter: Yeah. Okay. So you said something that I need to double back to - double back to? Go back to - which was "unsolicited feedback." What does that look like for you, and how should, how should I think about unsolicited feedback? Yeah, I'm not sure. I'm trying to get my head around a situation where I might deliver unsolicited feedback, and you are unbelievably good at giving feedback, regardless of whether it's solicited or not. So I'm curious for an example from you of when unsolicited feedback might occur.

Jen: Well, I'm coaching my own clients through this all the time, so I'll use some real life scenarios. We just finished - I was talking about this on a recent episode - we just finished this crazy busy time in the theatre industry that we call "audition season," and on the back end of audition season, many actors look at how their season went and want to talk to their agents about how they felt, whether they felt that they were well-represented during that time, whether they were getting into the rooms they needed to get into for the projects they wanted to be a part of. And those kinds of conversations can make actors want to dig a hole and hide away forever. So when I talk to them about how to structure this meeting with their agent, I always say, "Open with appreciation," because when you say to your agent, "I'd like to come in and talk about audition season and how things went and how we might strategize for the future," if I were an agent, I would be nervous about that, because so many people fail to say "thank you" for the hard work that an agent has done. Um, audition season is as grueling on them as it is on the actor, but so many people skip that and just launch right into, "I'm unhappy, this didn't go well and this is why." So I always tell them, if your agent does not know what this conversation is actually about, then open with, "I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me. I know that I'm very lucky, because a lot of actors, when they try to sit down with their agents, keep getting put-off, and you took the time to sit down and meet with me in person in the office, I'm grateful for that." And then they can go into - in that particular scenario I would say appreciation, then evaluation, so you can hold up the facts of this audition season versus past all these auditions seasons that you've been through together, or you can hold it up against colleagues of yours who are at a similar place, and how things went in terms of their accessibility to the rooms they wanted to be in versus yours. And then coaching in that scenario is going to look more like co-coaching, where we're hoping to engage in conversation and create a strategic plan together.

Peter: Okay. This is really interesting to me. So, what you just described is actually really common in corporates and startups and those kinds of environments where I've spent a lot of time, and if I think about a manager reaching out to one of their employees saying, "Hey, I'd love to put some time in the calendar so that we can talk about your performance," like, what a great way to shake fear into that employee, or stir fear into that employee. And then in that meeting itself, the temptation, or the, what I've seen, what I have observed in working with a number of very, very large and successful companies in Australia is, managers that will lead with the coaching or self-evalu-- or, sorry, coaching or evaluation in a moment where the employee is terrified and would benefit from being seen, would benefit from some appreciation, and that that culture of, like, the authority of "This is what I observed, this is what you need to do better," versus, "We're a team, this is what I see you doing really well and this is how you might improve other areas." I think they're, like, two very different conversations, but also not that hard to make the change, if that makes sense. And so there was that observation, but the other one is, just going back to unsolicited - do you think, in the example that we just talked about, is that feedback unsolicited? And maybe it's just a terminology thing that I've become obsessed with all of a sudden, or is it, like, baked into that kind of relationship? Like, when I have a manager, or when I have an agent, it's assumed that there's going to be feedback between one another, so that it is kind of always solicited, to some degree. This was a little bit of leading the witness, but where, what I was thinking about is, I was thinking about it from the perspective of who I listento feedback from, and what feedback I value as people, as a human. Anyone can give you feedback on anything, like, this idea of unsolicited feedback, a perfect stranger can and does say to me, "I think your podcast is crap," or, "I think your podcast amazing," or, "I don't like that blog you wrote," or, "I don't like that keynote you gave." Perfect strangers will do that, and you hear about, you know, you could read Amazon reviews of people who write books, and all those sorts of things, and these perfect strangers have very much unsolicited feedback for authors. And so what I'm interested in is knowing who to listen to and who to ignore, and being clear on the kinds of feedback, and the kinds of people, or the person in your life, or the people in your life who you rely on to give you that feedback. Because I actually think, too often we as humans, as creatives, as thinkers, we can be so driven by what other people think, like, this fear of other people's opinion is what paralyzes so many of us from doing anything. So I think, like, almost having a little list, or being clear on who are the five people that I really value these three types of feedback from, and, can I try and ignore the rest? Ignoring is very, very hard. But do you see, do you hear what I'm saying?

Jen: I do. And maybe the sort of "PS" I would put on that is, the people you trust and whose opinions you value are great people to take the unsolicited feedback to and say, "Help me sort through this and see if there's anything there." Because if someone said to me, "Jen, I listen to your podcast, and it's a piece of crap," and then I take that to you and I say, "Peter, someone just said to me - I'm feeling very triggered by this - someone just said to me, 'I listened to your podcast and it's a piece of crap.' Is our podcast a piece of crap?" So I'm all emotional, taking it personally, and then you can coach me through the feedback by saying, by asking good questions, like, "Tell me a bit about the context in which this was delivered. What you just said to me - were those the literal words that were said, or is that what you heard? Tell me a bit about the person that said this, and let's hold it up against our 'who is it for' and 'who is it not for?' Because if the podcast was made for that person and they think it's a piece of crap, then we really need to look at it. But if that person falls onto our 'who is it not for' list, then let's high five."

Peter: Ooh, that - you just unlocked something for me. That was brilliant. So, what I like about that is, probably to date until this moment, I've thought about it as I described, as like, you have trusted people that you get feedback from, and you do your best to, wherever possible, ignore others, basically, or feedback from other people that isn't that productive. But that, that, the last part is almost impossible. It's like, you can't just ignore it, because it exists, and it's potentially telling you something. So I love the idea of, instead of ignoring it, what if you took some of that to your trusted people, and in a kind of "meta" way, bounced that feedback off them to get feedback. That is, that's some Jen Waldman brilliance right there.

Jen: Well, I wish I could take credit for it, but this is basically the way my clients interact with me, as they go show their work to someone, they get feedback on it, and they bring the feedback to me, and then I try to help them sort through it. So, I'm only a product of my experience.

Peter: It's, yeah, that's super helpful though. And so then I think about, like, this close-knit group of people. So, how do you think about the five to ten, or however many people it is that you look to for valuable feedback? Do you have, like, a list, or do you just kind of know who they are off the top of your head, or...?

Jen: Well I know who they are. It's a small group, but I think that it's important to look at this from two different angles. So one is, in Brene Brown's book Dare to Lead - and in one of her previous works as well, I can't remember which title it was under - she talks about having the, what she calls "the square squad," which is, you take a one-inch by one-inch square of paper, and on it you write the names of the people whose opinions truly matter to you. And the caveat she puts in place there is that these are people who love you, not despite all of your faults - that's not the word she uses, but you get what I'm saying - but because of them. And those people make your one one-by-one square squad. What I want to just add on to that is, when you are looking to improve your skill set, or hone your craft, or whatever self-improvement you're working on, sometimes you need feedback from someone who's not in that square, not someone who is going to love you unconditionally and love all of your, all the things that make you uniquely you. Sometimes the feedback that you need is from someone whose work you admire, whose aesthetic you admire, who holds a very high standard for excellence. And you want to hear what that person has to say regardless of whether or not they like you.

Peter: Mmm.

Jen: So again, it's "what's it for?" What is the feedback for? When you are seeking feedback, ask yourself "What it's for?" and when you're seeking feedback - and this is for me, one of the biggest takeaways from Thanks for the Feedback is - ask for the kind of that you need rather than leaving it up to the other person. Because, back to Brene Brown, "clear is kind," you help the other person get better at giving feedback when you make them aware of the kind of feedback that you need. And I run into this with my clients all the time. So I won't get into this, the ins and outs of this, but essentially there is, uh, a model in our business, where an actor will pay for ten minutes or so of a casting director's time. So it's not technically a paid audition, it's a class, but essentially the actor gets up, hands over the money, and gets ten minutes with this casting director. Now, many of these artists do not say what kind of feedback they want. So they get up without any context, they share their work, and then they'll get feedback, like, "You know, I really don't think that piece suits you," or, "Have you thought about doing it this way," or, "I don't like your dress," or whatever it might be. And then the actor is dumbfounded and devastated by this feedback, and they'll bring it to me, and I'll say, "Well, how did you set it up?" "Oh, well I didn't." Well if you had gone up and you said, "This is a piece that I'm working on to audition for x show; what I'd like to hear from you is whether or not this piece would make you think of this character in this show," then you get evaluation. Or, if you think it's someone who has the skill to actually coach you and help you improve, you can say, "Hey, I'm working on this piece. I'm, what I'd love is for you to help me actually strengthen the presentation of it. I'd love for you to coach me on how to make this interpretation more legible to an audience."

Peter: Yeah, yeah. My favorite question to ask people who I'm wanting to coach me is either, "What am I missing?" or, "How might I make this better?" And the perfect example of this - so I just wanted to go back to, like, maybe what I should have said at the start, which was, the thing that's interesting about feedback is it can be - not a dirty word - but it can evoke certain feelings, and certain people, of like, people are scared of feedback. Like, if someone says to you, "I'm gonna give you some feedback," there is this almost, like, visceral response, where you like, shrivel up a little bit, and you go, "Ooh, okay, well, what is it?" It doesn't necessarily correlate with positivity, or ways in which I can improve, which I think, I actually think is what feed- or good feedback is for is, how can I make things better? How can I make myself better? How can I move this change forward in some way? But so, just to call out, like, how important and beneficial and positive feedback can be, one of the examples we talked about in the "Reflection Scripts" episode, which was, some feedback that I sought from a trusted friend who, I think I said to her, I was like, "How could, how could we make The Long and the Short of It better?" And she said, "Well, it's interesting, because have you noticed" - I can't remember her exact words, but the pattern of the questions that she asked essentially, essentially led me to realize that Jen Waldman had led, you know, six episodes in a row. And I was just reacting to that. And we talked about this in the "Reflection Scripts" episode where, what if, what if we got back to me leading some episodes and you responding, and that sort of thing. And that, as a result, I think has made the podcast a whole lot better, and certainly made the way that I think about it and the way that you think about it more productive and conducive to a great conversation that hopefully our listeners get value out of. So I think feedback is just so important in drawing out our blind spots - and maybe this is specifically coaching feedback - and so important in helping us make things better.

Jen: Well, I'd love to add one more idea to this, which is, I think, "Can I give you some feedback?" is too generic, and to your point, it's a triggering word. I would rather someone say to me, "Hey Jen, can I talk to you about the way your episodes are starting?"

Peter: Mmm.

Jen: "Yes," cause then I know what, what we're talking about. Instead of me spinning off in a million different directions, I'm trying to figure out, if someone says to me, "Can I give you feedback?" I'm like, "Oh my gosh, I must have done something wrong," but I have no context, so now I'm trying to replay my whole life. But if someone just says, "Hey, we'd love to talk to you about the way you open The Long and the Short of It," it's like, "Yeah, hit me. Tell me, tell me what's, what." So, clarity is kindness.

Peter: "Clear is kind" - feels like we've gone full circle on that realization. Anything else you'd like to say about feedback before we wrap up this episode?

Jen: Well, because I know a lot of our listeners are in a position to both give and receive, I thought maybe we could drop a couple of resources that we like into the conversation. So I'm offering up Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Hene. I'm also offering up their other book, Difficult Conversations, which came out of their work as mediators - also excellent. And then another mediation book I'd like to recommend is Getting to Yes with Yourself, which is the sequel to Getting to Yes. But when he talks about it in the intro, he says that it's really the prequel. You should read that first. How do you know what you really are in pursuit of?

Peter: There you go. My resource is The Coaching Habit, which is a book that Jen just reminded me of, and it's, it is one of my favorite books. They have, I think, eight, or seven, or eight questions that they talk through, and the importance of the power of each and every one of them. And it's basically, "this is how you might think about coaching someone." And he wrote some great questions that you can ask, and the frame in which to ask them, and the responses you might get. Super important book. The other one is - it's not a book, but it's referenced in a book, and I was introduced to it by Kristen Hadeed, who I believe borrowed it from Barry May...Weather?

Jen: Barry Wehmiller Institute.

Peter: Barry Wehmiller, and that is this idea of FBI, which stands for Feeling Behavior Impact. I think if you just Google "FBI feedback," it will come up, it'll pop up. And it's a super handy, structured way of thinking about feedback, which is basically, when giving feedback, you need to cover off three things: how it made you feel, what behavior made you feel that way, and what the impact was as result of that behavior. And there was a bunch of talks in literature, and I think, actually, Simon Sinek does a riff about this as well. So, FBI would be my other resource.

Jen: Well, I love it, which is appreciation. I encourage you all to read the books if you want to get better at giving and receiving feedback, which is coaching, and for some evaluation, that is The Long and The Short Of It.