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).

Moving From Theory to Action: Curious vs. Convinced

To support you in deepening your curiosity with those who hold different views from you, I offer some questions reprinted with permission by my friend and colleague, Howard Ross. These come from his company’s resource guide: Inclusive Responses in Times of Fear. See this and other resources on cookross.com.

 1. How do you feel about people who think differently than you about this?

2. What are you afraid of? What is more inspiring to you than fear?

3. How can you engage in these conversations authentically and whole-heartedly? What might get in the way?

4. What are you committed to? How do you see your role/contribution in any conversations or actions?

5. What is your desired outcome for these conversations?

Curious vs. Convinced

I’m going to go out on a limb and talk about politics. This presidential election season has been hard for me. The name calling, rudeness, and divisiveness of this campaign has me disheartened, and I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. I just can’t wait for it to be over. The major media outlets including The Huffington Post, The Atlantic and even Fox News are writing about how to manage election stress. It feels like the negative election energy is seeping into our pores, and to try to prevent that, we armor up and get rigid in our views and stay in our camps of righteousness in order to not feel the fear, and the pain of not understanding one another. Yet I don’t want to harden myself against half the population. That feels like a very high cost to us as a nation, and I’m in the inquiry of how to hold my dignity and the dignity of others through this election period.

“I’m right, they’re idiots” is what it boils down to in our political dialogue, not only with the candidates but also how we look at our neighbors, colleagues and family members who disagree with us. Recently I’ve been thinking, “Where do I go from here? How do I get out of this righteous mindset?” Rather than convince myself more that my side is right, how might I open the door to curiosity instead? Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind, Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (click to his fascinating 19-minute TED Talk) offers a path of understanding. He explains that reasoning with others doesn’t work because our beliefs are based more deeply than that. He asserts that there are six fundamental ideas that commonly undergird moral systems: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. Republicans and Democrats vote based on these moral interests, and how they weight each in importance tends to define their vote.

For me, this premise helps me to be a bit more curious and less judgmental. Fundamentally, I believe that fear is a prominent driver in our life, as our brains are hardwired to sense danger and to protect. And if we fear that our moral values are at stake we will fight to protect them. In this case, fighting is the rhetoric we hear in the election arena. But instead of fighting the Other, if I can understand the fear behind others’ view I can then find a place where I can connect with them– what do they fear losing? What are the values they hold dear? It doesn’t mean I’m negating my views, but for a few moments, it allows me to pause and connect with their humanity and mine. Haidt’s research helps make it more concrete for me.

This topic feels risky for me to put out here, and as I reread it, I know that I risk being misunderstood, or considered preachy, naïve or something else. But ultimately I want to share the value in upholding the dignity of all, which is sometimes lost in the Red versus Blue war. If it serves as one small drop in the well toward understanding and healing, then it will have been worth it.

Book Review: Everyday Bias

By: Howard Ross

Howard is a dear friend and colleague, and I am glad to have the opportunity to share this book with you as it delves into the neuroscience of our own bias and how to work with it in a work environment and our personal lives. This book is filled with powerful examples and research on unconscious bias that draws you in and gets you more curious about how our mind operates.

From sports, to healthcare, music, and power in our society, Howard navigates us through these charged topics without shaming anyone, and offers ways that we can individually and organizationally begin to explore and work with our bias. It’s an eye-opening book that leaves me hopeful in times when we need it. Sending a prayer for the victims of Orlando and the countless numbers of those before them. May we each contribute in some small way today toward creating a more caring and kind world.

Moving From Theory To Action: On Learning Communities

To support you in identifying and strengthening your own learning communities.

 Reflect on a time when you had a learning community. What contributed to its effectivness?

What are your current communities where there may be a possibility of creating more of an intention around learning together and supporting one another? (This could be a work team you’re on, a particular group of friends, a volunteer group you participate on).

Are there already existing learning groups you might be interested in joining? (These could include spiritual groups, leadership programs such as the WLC, book study clubs, formal classes, etc.)

What is one action you will take based on this reflection?

Community vs Individual Learning

The crocuses and daffodils peeking out of the brown earth remind me how I love spring, as it seems to burst with possibility and new opportunities. I was just invited to the teacher track for the Strozzi Institute, an internationally-recognized center for somatic coaching whose mission is “to produce leaders who embody pragmatic wisdom, skillful action and grounded compassion.” I will be traveling there four times this year to be with my cohort, and I am reminded of how impactful it is to be in a community of learners. The support, energy and learning is so much greater than going it alone, and I am grateful to be embarking on this journey with this amazing group of people who come from not only the United States, but also from Chile, Belize, Italy, the UK and Ethiopia. It is truly a gift, and I invite you into this reflection on your own learning communities.

There are a multitude of articles about the importance of professional learning communities. One of the biggest proponents is Peter Senge, who popularized the theory of the learning organization. In his book, The Fifth Discipline, he speaks about the importance of team learning and that this learning is done through dialogue, which allows one to go beyond any one individual’s understanding. This is the real benefit of learning with others; we get out of our own head and can question our own assumptions, and process and internalize the learning is a more powerful way than doing it on our own. As social beings, we learn through the interaction with others. When I was at Strozzi, I was curious and energized by others’ questions in the room. I found I could move my own understanding of a concept and better internalize it. When I was “stuck’ with a personal issue in my own development, having others witness me and offer perspective from the outside allowed me a way out of my automatic thinking to create a new way of seeing things. Finally, the support I feel is invaluable, knowing there is a group of people all on the same path of learning, holding one another accountable to our commitments to become great teachers of this work.

This is a key reason for me founding the Women’s Leadership Circles program—to provide others with the opportunity to learn leadership in a close community of peers. Being a leader can be isolating, and we need someone to learn from. A colleague and I have been conducting research on the impact of these Circles over time. In fact, all of the Circles have continued on their own after the initial six-month program, the first Circle now in it’s fifth year. Here are a few comments on the importance of the Circles both as a place of learning as well as strength through connection: “Meeting with them has offered me a way to consider, create, act and reflect on various experiences and learnings in my life in a way different than one-on-one friendships.” “ I feel calmer in the face of challenges knowing there are others there who care and support me.” What about you, where can you leverage the power of community in your learning?

Moving From Theory To Action: Measuring Business Beyond the Basics

Values and living in alignment with them isn’t necessarily a quick exercise. It starts with clarifying your values, assessing your alignment and setting future goals to track. That said, here are a few questions to consider if you’ve already got an idea.

  1. What actions in your work do you already take that are in alignment with your values? It is often helpful to take a strengths-based approach of what you are already doing.
  2. What actions would you like to take going forward that are in alignment with your values?
  3. How will you know if you’ve succeeded? What are your measurements of success?
  4. To what extent might B Corp certification be a process for you as a way to tangibly demonstrate your work values?
water-shed (watr'shed') Noun: a critical point that marks a division or change of course; a turning point — © 2014 WatershedCoaching. All rights reserved.