Moving From Theory To Action: Rethinking Critical Feedback

To support you in preparing for giving critical feedback, here are some reflection questions:

 –What is my mindset going into this conversation-how do I remind myself that feedback is my interpretation and not necessarily a fact? Where can I be curious? Can I hold that I might not have all the information?

 –What does this person care about that would make the feedback important for him/her to want to know? How can I frame this conversation from that perspective?

-Who am I in relation to this person? What is my level of power? How can I be responsible for my social context such as race, gender, age, etc. in offering this feedback?

-What is my mood right now and how can I put myself into a frame of mind that will be helpful? Is the other person in a mood to be able to listen? What is the mood I want to create in through this conversation (shame, blame, accountability, possibility, empowerment)?

-What is my first sentence to “enter” into the conversation in an honest, straightforward way?

Taking Apart the Feedback Sandwich

I have been working with several individual coaching clients recently on improving their coaching skills with staff. One aspect that always comes up is how to give critical feedback. One of them told me recently that she is known for her sandwich feedback with one of her subordinates in particular. (He’s the one who struggles the most). The standard format of the feedback sandwich is praise-criticism-praise. She said that whenever she gives him a compliment he now jokes and asks what it is she really wants to say to him. The sandwich isn’t really having the impact it is supposed to. He doesn’t really hear or believe the positive acknowledgement because he knows that the meat of the conversation is coming, and then doesn’t really hear the compliment on the other side because he’s thinking about the critical feedback and knows that the praise is just designed to soften things anyway.

That said, the sandwich approach to feedback, “praise-criticism-praise”, is a well-known strategy in management training. For those who are giving feedback, many believe it feels a bit easier to “soften” the negative feedback by adding in some positives. Some people think it will give balance to the feedback, and others think it’s easier for the recipient to hear it when presented this way.

Roger Schwarz in his Harvard Business Review blog, “The ‘Sandwich Approach’ Undermines your Feedback” offers an alternative view. To summarize:

  • “Easing in” to sharing negative feedback can actually increase discomfort and anxiety for the person giving the feedback as the longer one talks without giving the negative feedback the harder it can become. This may also result in the recipient sensing the discomfort and becoming more anxious themselves.
  • In his work with teams interviewing direct reports, it turns out that almost all say they want just the meat-not the bread on each end. It undermines trust.
  • People learn better when receiving feedback, positive or negative, in a timely manner, so rather than holding positive feedback for a time when you need it as a part of a “sandwich”, offer it when it happens. Employees report not believing the positive feedback anyway if it’s presented as a part of a feedback sandwich, so to increase one’4ts trust, authenticity and transparency, offer the positive separately from the negative feedback.

So what’s a better way to approach giving negative feedback than serving a lukewarm, stale, overdone sandwich? Try two things. First, don’t assume that you necessarily have all the facts. Sometimes you can start with an open-ended question—“Bill, I heard that the client was unhappy that you didn’t get that to her by the deadline. Is that right?” Maybe you don’t have all the information.

Furthermore, a mind shift may be helpful for you in giving negative feedback. We try to soften it with a sandwich, and sometimes dread giving it, because we worry that it will hurt them and our relationship with them. But if you can identify what they care about and anchor your feedback in that, then you’re not hurting, you’re helping them with their goals and helping them to improve.

Not easy, but certainly worth trying if it might have a deeper impact. Let me know what you learn!

Book Review: Change Anything

By: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler

 This award-winning team of writers does it again. What I like about Change Anything is that it breaks down how we make change happen from six main sources: 1. Love what you hate- learn to like the changes you make; 2. Do what you can’t- learn the skills through deliberate practice in order to make the changes you want; 3&4. Turn accomplices into friends- we all have people in our lives who sabatoge our best efforts- turn them into supporters. 5. Invert the economy- by bribing yourself and raising the cost of bad behavior you can actually get yourself to act in ways you want 6. Control your space- use the environment to become an ally for the change you want rather than a barrier. It’s an engaging book, with good examples and really breaks down the change process which will increase your likelihood of success! (Their book Influencer does the same thing in an organizational context).

Moving From Theory To Action: On Planning

To support you in moving toward action, here are some reflection questions based on the recommendations by Richard Wiseman:

1. What are the benefits to me of taking on this goal? How will my life be better?

2. How can I break down this goal into manageable steps? What are some realistic dates for completing these dates? What is one action, no matter how small, that I can take today?

3. After looking at this concrete timeline, what are small rewards I can give myself to celebrate milestones along the way?

4. How will I track my progress? Visual calendar? Phone app? Handwritten journal? (set this up now)

5. Who do I want to tell about my goal, and what are the specific ways people can support me in reaching it? (accountability partners can be very helpful).

The Power of Planning vs. Dreaming

This summer I decided to begin my goal of hiking the entire Long Trail. It’s a 272-mile trail that runs north to south in Vermont, and I’ve been thinking about it for years. The problem was that my mindset around it was getting in the way. I had dreams of hiking it with my two daughters and a friend of mine who also had a daughter or two. One minor flaw to this plan was that this ideal person didn’t exist, my daughters have stated in no uncertain terms that they “Hate” hiking (and walking for that matter these days), and other family trips took priority over planning a week in the woods for the next three summers.

And then I paused, broke it down and started thinking concretely about this goal. First, I decided it was my goal to hike the Long Trail, no one else’s, and so I would let go of finding a partner to hike the whole thing with, and instead would section-hike it, breaking it down into small chunks. One weekend I could go with my husband and do a part of the trail, another weekend with a girlfriend, a weekend alone, and if the stars align, perhaps in a few years, I might even get my daughters to do a section with me. I moved the timing on my goal out- no need do complete it by the time my elder daughter completed high school. What if it took me ten years or more? After all, to repeat the often-said quote, it’s about the journey, not the destination, right?

And so I have begun, first with my husband in August, then with a girlfriend a week later. I thought that was it for this summer, but unexpectedly a bike trip with friends turned into doing another section of the LT when I injured my shoulder and couldn’t bike for a while. With this long-term goal clarified, I am now seeing ways to make progress even though the completion date isn’t in sight. It’s a good reminder about the power of breaking goals down.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing bad about dreaming. It can provide us with hope and inspiration. In my case it motivated me to buy new gear so that I could travel lighter on the trail. That said, just as buying the gym membership doesn’t improve your health, a new backpack didn’t get me on the trail.

Here is an excerpt from researcher and best-selling author, Richard Wiseman, from his book: 59 Seconds: Think a Little Change A Lot. See below for his top five list of what works in achieving one’s goals:

  1. Break your goal into a series of steps, focusing on creating sub-goals that are concrete, measurable, and time-based.
  2. Tell your friends and family about your goals, thus increasing the fear of failure and eliciting support.
  3. Regularly remind yourself of the benefits associated with achieving your goals by creating a checklist of how life would be better once you obtain your aim.
  4. Give yourself a small reward whenever you achieve a sub-goal, thus maintaining motivation and a sense of progress.
  5. Make your plans and progress concrete by keeping a hand-written journal, completing a computer spreadsheet or covering a notice board with graphs or pictures.

OK, so I didn’t pull out this list before I started thinking about my Long Trail adventure, and in fact, I didn’t know about it until I started researching for this newsletter. But what is interesting is how many of these I had done in my own way:

  1. As I shared, I decided to section hike it in smaller pieces, extended the timeframe, and shoot for 2-3 weekends a year (that puts me at under 10 years if I do 27 miles a year- clearly doable).
  2. I put my goal on Facebook- and was surprised and grateful for the number of encouraging comments. Several people said they would love to join me for a weekend.
  3. Benefits are clear, as I love being in the woods, hiking and sleeping out. I miss my big international backpacking trips of my 20s, and this connects me to an important aspect of myself.
  4. From my backpacking friends in Lithuania, I learned a lovely tradition to bring a “surprise” on each trip. I love pulling out an unexpected surprise and to receive one. My girlfriend carried in fresh orange juice for our morning after our first sleep out-awesome!
  5. The Long Trail requires a journal to get credit so I created a spreadsheet with who, where, miles covered, and fun notes to remember about the trip. I also started taking one video on each section to remind me of the experience. Maybe I’ll put it into a montage at the end.

What about you? Any big goals that you haven’t figured out how to make happen yet?

Book Review: The Upside of Stress-Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It

By: Kelly McGonigal

If you’re curiosity is piqued and you think you’d like to really pause and dig into this really important concept- please read this book! It’s a way to walk yourself through a process of creating a new, more positive relationship with stress. Part One engages you with rethinking the narratives and stories you have about stress and countering it with some useful research that shows stress actually has some upsides. Part Two explains how to transform stress, including rethinking anxiety and building deeper connections with others in stressful times as a way to build resilience against stress. Throughout the book there are personal reflections to prompt your thinking and great stories that cause you to nod your head and say “Me, too!” Two thumbs up!

P.S. If you’re feeling too stressed to read another book, here’s Kelly’s  TED talk on the topic:

Moving From Theory To Action: On Stress

To support you in changing your mindset on stress, here are some reflection questions:

1. To what extent do I find the stressful aspects of my life also meaningful?

2. When have I experienced that stress actually makes me more productive and engaged?

3. What is the language I use around stress and how might I make a small shift toward a more positive relationship with stress?

4. Since reaching out to others is one of the ways to reduce stress, who can I reach out to for support?

Mindset Shift: the Good News About Stress

June is always a crazy period for me- end of school-year activities, cramming in work projects before summer vacations start (like this newsletter!), extra social events, tending to the garden, not to mention that I want to go outside and enjoy the sun that’s finally here. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day and I hear the conversations about how busy we all are, running from place to place, losing sleep, not being able to settle in and actually be present for any of these myriad of activities. It’s all so STREEESFUL! And we all know how terrible stress is for us… but is it really, and in what ways? I’ve been reflecting on the impact my relationship to stress has on me and those around me, and took a deep dive into some of the newest research on the topic showing that it might not be as bad as it seems.

A University of Wisconsin- Madison study asked 29,000 people to rate their stress level in the last year and how much they believed stressed influence their health. Then over the following eight years, they recorded the number of deaths by any of these subjects. What they found is that people who reported having high levels of stress and who believed stress had a large impact on their health had a 43 percent increased risk of death. Those who experienced a lot of stress but didn’t perceive its effects as negative were amongst the least likely to die in comparison to other participants in the study. Forty-three percent! Given that I don’t anticipate giving up my work, family and other commitments, it might be worth making this mindset shift.

Furthermore, a study by Roy Baumeister shows we believe the most stressful events are often the most meaningful. (Childbirth comes immediately to mind!) And when we work hard in our careers, give our all to our kids, and get engaged in our community, we may indeed, be stressed, but it is also be an indicator of a life of great meaning. I like that. I think going forward when people ask me how I’m doing, instead of saying “Wow- good, busy and stressful,” maybe I’ll try out instead, “I’m leading a life of great meaning!” I’ll let you know how people respond.

Finally, you can channel your stress into energy that increases your performance. When we see that stress is a natural part of life, we’re in a better mindset to find ways to deal with it, ask for help and see stressful events as challenges rather than something to be avoided. I often say to clients, anxiety is excitement without the breath. And that’s the exciting part, because we can become aware and can choose how we perceive the situation: problem or challenge? Danger or opportunity? Fear and anxiety, or excitement?

How you speak about something matters. I remember my daughter saying one time, “I’m completely overwhelmed and freaked out about my test tomorrow.” I responded to her by asking, “Are you completely overwhelmed, anxious or a bit nervous?” She responded by saying “a bit nervous” and her body visibly relaxed, shoulders lowered, and she exhaled. Studies show people who have some stress going into a test or a public speaking actually do better than those who don’t have a little adrenaline running through their body. I’m going to go back to my day and my To-Do list now, a little more grateful for the stress in my life.

Moving From Theory To Action: Unplugging

To support you in practicing unplugging, here are some reflection questions:

The next time you take a quick scan of social media, emails, etc. ask yourself, “What did I learn and how did it make me feel?” It can be helpful to get some baseline data on the impact it’s having on your mood.

1.  When you begin to reach for your device, pause. As yourself, “What could be gained from checking right now? Will it support what I’m doing?” Practice delaying it- especially if you are with others or eating.

2. Take a look at your calendar and ask yourself, “Where in my day am I making meaningful connections with others? Are there better ways I’d like to spend my evenings rather than surfing social media?” Reflecting upon who and what is important to you and making a plan toward those connections is much more fulfilling.

3. “What boundaries do I want to put in place so that I have better balance with my technology use?” There are many ways to do this, including: take email off of your phone, set a time for when you power down each night, avoid sleeping with the phone in your room (buy an alarm clock if needed!), wait before getting on technology in the morning, take a technology-free day, try the three-day digital detox, turn off social media notifications, stop retweeting, reposting, liking, etc. set your email to batch and release throughout the day at periodic intervals. The list goes on! Good luck!

The Importance of Unplugging

I just got back from a ten-day vacation with my husband sailing and relaxing in Puerto Rico. For those of you who haven’t heard his stories, he spent several years working on boats in his 20s and just loves it. So this year we rented a boat and sailed around the islands with some friends. The sailing was great (though Jon and I both know I don’t share his love for the open sea- I tend toward sea sickness and would rather walk than sail from place to place if I could), but for me there was another aspect of the trip that really made an impact- I completely unplugged. No computer, no phone, nothing. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve unplugged longer than a weekend, and it was a great practice to observe myself “withdraw” from my devices and to give me and my brain a rest from the constant onslaught of information.

Social media appears to increase narcissism and depression among users, smartphones could be causing insomnia, depression and anxiety, and screens seem to be making our kids less empathetic. I have two daughters, aged 12 and 14 who are considered digital natives, and despite my best intentions on limiting screen time, I worry about the long-term impact on them, as well as society as a whole, as we enter this grand experiment with technology.

I can see how it impacts. “I have to be on or I’ll get behind”- says my elder daughter as she tries to keep up with Snapchat and Instagram, not even digesting the posts, but just “liking” everything that comes across her screen. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and the pressures of her online presence are felt acutely. This winter we saw an enormous and amazing ice castle completely made out of ice. I stopped dead in my tracks when my younger daughter, about to go down an ice slide, said to me with deep concern, “Mom, I don’t know what I should do- should I go down the slide taking a video, but then I have to be careful how I slide so the camera doesn’t shake and it won’t be as fun, but I’m also afraid that if I don’t film it, I won’t remember it.” – With much compassion, I invited her to really pay attention to her experience and make a mental photo of it in her mind. Ouch! What pressures. Here is a cool clip of what the impact of technology is on our brain.

I found an interesting research article in Fast Company where a hand-picked group of 35 CEOs, entrepreneurs, and other influencers were invited on a trip to Morocco to study their behavior with and without technology. Five undercover neuroscientists observed the group. Here’s an excerpt of what they found after only three days:

Better Posture, Deeper Friendships
After three days without technology, people’s posture noticeably changed. They began to adapt to primarily looking forward into people’s eyes, rather than downward into their screens. People’s energy opened up and seemed more approachable. Better eye contact appeared to encourage people to connect with one another more deeply.

Improved Memory
Even after a few days without technology, people were more likely to remember random details about one another, such as the names of distant relatives mentioned in passing. The neuroscientists believe that this is because people were more present in conversation, so their brains were able to process and store new information more easily. These details are actually very important in the process of bonding and learning about other people.

More-Efficient Sleep
The guests on the trip said that they did not have to sleep as long, but felt even more rested and rejuvenated. The neuroscientists believe this is because the blue light from screens suppresses melatonin in the body, which makes us more alert as we are going to sleep. Other studies support these findings.

New Perspectives
One of the most powerful findings was that people tended to make significant changes to their lives when they were offline for a while. Some decided to make big changes in their career or relationships, while others decided to recommit to health and fitness. The lack of constant distraction appeared to free people’s minds to contemplate more important issues in their lives.

I noticed all of these things myself, in addition to some much needed quality time with my husband, uninterrupted time to just read, go for a walk or swim, or have a relaxing drink at sunset. Of course, all of these things are possible at home, too, but unplugging was a helpful boundary to take away the pressures of what I could or should be doing. I’m looking at ways I can bring more of that back home, and invite you, as well. See below for next steps.

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