All of us cringe at the thought of getting feedback. Yet, we all need feedback to improve.
There are formulas for feedback but they don't work as well as they should.
However, this method of balance is tricky. We can't praise people all the time, and we can't say what we really think. Is there a way out? Yes there is, if you use this method of balance by Randall Stutman from Admired Leadership. His method works so well, you could give feedback all day and people will ask for more.
Let's find out how.
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Note: (This is an unedited transcript)
There was a moment in 2006 that is kind of hard for me to forget.
It wasn't even a moment that was face-to-face, but rather something that happened on a forum. This client, Mark Selva, who's gone on to be very successful in his own right, was part of the protege program where he was learning how to write articles, how to create info products, and a whole bunch of things that we were covering.
And one day, Mark did the equivalent of what you'd do offline, which is to take someone aside and tell them something that's been bugging you. And Mark said, you know, Sean, whenever I get things wrong in the article, you always tell me about it. You're going to great detail about what's wrong and how to fix it. And I really appreciate that.
But you never really give me enough praise.
And it struck me because I realized he was right. And this is the problem with most of us, especially when we're in a leadership position, when we are in charge of membership site or if we are conducting a workshop or if we are parents or if we are teachers, we are in a leadership position and somehow it seems like just giving praise.
Well, we want to reserve it for when it's really good. But that's where things go off tangent because what we have to do on a regular basis and this is almost all the time is we have to get feedback. And nobody wants to hear feedback. They say, “Please tell me if something is wrong.”
But the moment you tell them what is wrong, they can only take so much of it. And then they struggle. They get defensive. They want to push back. And that pushes you back because you don't want to say bad things, but you still have to correct their behavior, correct what they're doing.
And this podcast is about feedback, and how to give that feedback.
And I wish I could say that I came up with these ideas myself, but feedback is an area that is just so well known and so little is known about it. Until I ran into Randall Stutman. And if you say who's Randall Stutman, that's the whole point. The whole point is that this is a guy who runs Admired Leadership, which is a company that trains the very best leaders.
And what I like best about Randall Stutman is that he looks at how people behave and how you can use that behavior to make better leaders, better teachers and better parents. He looks at the things that work and then how to very effectively use them in day-to-day life.
Because there is a difference between technique and behavior as he suggests, which is you know a technique, but it's impossible to become good unless it's part of your behavior. As something that you do every day, because that's what we do every day, we give feedback every day.
We don't always give praise every day, we give feedback every day.
And my suggestion is for you to listen to this podcast at least a couple of times and possibly make notes not because of anything but because it will help you move it from just information, just to take me into real behavior. Simply because it's something that we have to do all the time and we're pretty hopeless at it.
So what are we going to cover today we're going to cover three things, all of these ideas of Stutman. I'm just a messenger. So the first thing that we're going to cover is positive versus negative feedback. We think we know this, we're going to find out differently. The second is the negative balance of feedback and the third is the positive balance of feedback, which is also pretty terrible.
Let's start out with positive verses negative feedback.
I was listening to an audiobook where singer-songwriter Paul Simon was being interviewed. Now Paul Simon has been famous almost all of his life. He had a hit and he was really well known even before then. He's also known to be a stichler when it comes to music. He wants to do things just differently, better, all the time. And in the interview the point of feedback comes up and Paul almost pushes back.
There is this very long pause and then almost like an attack and he says, Because I don't like criticism, I don't like it at all. Well, this is someone who's very accomplished knows that feedback is critical and yet most of us don't feel very comfortable around feedback. It just destroys our confidence even when we want it.
Even when we say we want constructive criticism, what is constructive criticism?
It's just tearing us apart, isn't it? telling us all the things that we got wrong. We so want to be right. And constructive criticism or criticism is terrible for the person giving it as well. You're walking up a slope, it's a gentle incline, and the other person is huffing and puffing, and you know, that's not good for them, but no one's telling them.
You're not supposed to talk about these things, which is where we start out of with the whole idea of criticism, which is that you're supposed to ask for permission before you give that criticism. Is it okay if I tell you something? This is what we tend to do. We are asking for permission. And most of the time, this is not a practical situation.
Imagine you're talking to your kids. They're running across the road. You're not going to go, “Oh, wait, can I give you some criticism?” Even when someone says, “Can you critique my article? Can you critique my sales page? Can you do this? Or can you do that?” They are not essentially asking you to rip up all their stuff. And you can't ask for permission.
So we're in this situation where we're always struggling to give that criticism because we want the situation to change.
Sometimes we desperately need that situation to change because it's annoying or it's slowing us down. But there are other times when they want it to change and we're stuck almost always when it comes to criticism. And I know this is a long-creamble, but this is the situation that we find ourselves in.
And this is where Stutman's idea is so beautiful. He starts off by saying how we all are taught to give criticism, which is, you say, one good thing and then, you know, that kind of softens the impact and then you go, oh, but you also mean him as they care.
The problem is that when something is wrong, so supposing I look at a cartoon that someone has done, then my eye automatically goes to the mistakes. When I look at fonts, and I don't see the cutting right or I don't see something right then I'm not seeing one thing.
Usually when you're really good at something you don't see one thing you see several things. And you're trying to say, “Oh this is good but there is this imbalance because you can see one good thing or two good things and you can see four bad things and this is what student calls imbalance.”
So he gives an example where someone has to critique a presentation.
And he says, “Oh, the presentation was really good. People really enjoy the presentation and they had fun with some of your slides.” And you can see how there is a struggle to give precise. You're almost trying to give praise that is kind of an overview. But when it comes to feedback, you go in slide 17, what you had was the picture of this woman, and I think that needs to go. And then in slide 34, what you did was blah, blah, blah, blah, and then in slide 36, what you did with the D, and in 84, this is what you did.
And now the poor person get in the feedback, can't remember any of that good stuff.
So that concept of, give them some good stuff, then give them some bad stuff. That doesn't work at all, because there is no balance. When the waiter asks us how did you find the food? Even if we've really enjoyed the meal, we're not going to go into every single detail, which is the wine was chilled exactly the right temperature, which was this temperature.
And this was this and that was that. And then go into the detail. Instead we go, “Oh, we really enjoy the meal, the service was good.” It's all vague. But look at the feedback. It's so detailed. And this is the first problem that there is an imbalance in the praise and the feedback. The praise is usually 1-2 points vague. And then the feedback is 1, 2, 3, 4 and in a lot of detail.
And at this point, we have that launching board to the second point, which is what do we do when we have so many things that we have to correct, but we don't can't give that much praise. Let's find out.
One of the people that I chat with most on WhatsApp is a cartoonist writer and paint a called John Weiss.
Now John also takes photographs and I often send him these photographs that I take of businesses in New Zealand. I go into a business and maybe it's a fishery and I'll take 300 photographs and I'll post about 30 in and out them online.
The thing that John does really well is he'll take screenshots of the pictures that he likes and then he'll go into a lot of detail sometimes even a paragraph about how he likes those pictures, what he finds so fascinating about those pictures. And when I wake up the next morning that's a great start to my morning.
At 4 o'clock I'm in WhatsApp looking at what John has sent me. Do I know that the pictures are good? Of course I do. I've grown very confident and very comfortable taking pictures of people. But even then I want to know how the world or how at least a few people in the world perceive those pictures.
What are they seeing? Are they seeing the same thing?
Is there something different? And so I'm looking for what you'd call praise. But I had the complete opposite experience when I first started taking pictures with the like about two years ago. My pictures were often blurry, out of focus, there were lots of mistakes, and I'd send it to a friend of mine, and he's a really good friend, and he would come back with all the things that needed to be fixed.
Now the problem with me is that, Once I get into something, whether it's photography or drawing or anything, I'll keep going and going and going every single day, five, seven days a week. And so I would send him these pictures every day. So what he is doing is a great service. He is taking time off from his day-to-day life, from whatever he has to do to give me this detailed feedback.
But it got to a point where I didn't want to hear from him.
So I stopped sending many pictures. I didn't want to know what was wrong with my pictures. Even though I knew that it would make me so much better. In fact, even today when I go out and I take the pictures, I'm going, what would he say? Is this picture in focus, is this in place, is that in place? So, his voice is still in my head, but I didn't like that feedback. I couldn't take that criticism on an ongoing basis.
And just to remind you, this is the second part that we're dealing with, which is this imbalance of negative feedback. What Randall Stutman says is that when you have very little praise to give, then stretch yourself. Find at least one or two things that are really good. And then go into a lot of detail. Don't just give an overview about something and just say, “You know, this was really good. Your presentation was fabulous. I really liked it.”
I like the way that the crowd responded. What is it about the presentation? So just as you did and said slide 17 had this this dismissing the fonts were wrong, you're still inside 17 well how about doing that for slide 15 which you thought was good? That's the equivalent of John Wise isolating something and sending me that picture and then I know well out of those 30 pictures which almost likes slides.
He liked this one and here's why I liked it and he goes into that much detail and then he goes into the second one which is that much detail. And what we have now is say you've got the equivalent of slide 17 with lots of detail and slide 34 with lots of detail and then you've run out of stuff. Nothing else you found was great.
But then on the other hand you have four slides which will add well forget for, let's keep it in balance even though you have four it doesn't matter. You have to have the balance so you go into a lot of detail about 17 and slide 34 and then you go into a lot of detail about slide 51 and 66. And now we have balance I mean in the ideal world we would have have more praise and less criticism, but it doesn't work like that.
No matter how much we try, it's always like the criticism is greater than the praise.
And partly because it's hard to get praise all the time. But also it requires a lot more work. You have to find what's good and you really have to dig compared with criticism which is more than apparent. When someone cooks a meal and they don't mess up the place, well, it's not much to praise.
But when they make a mess, there's a lot of stuff that comes to mind because it annoys you. So we have this problem, but what he's talking about, and especially in leadership positions, especially if you're running a website or doing a critique or doing anything like that. Then you have to go into a lot of detail about the good stuff and a lot of detail of the bats of in keeping balance.
It's not one is the four or two is the four but rather two is the two. That's kind of the formula that he suggests. And that allows the person to go a while. Yeah, I need to pay attention to these things, but also, you know, I did really well on the other stuff. We started out this podcast with just the balance, one is the four. And that was completely out of whack. Then we went to the second kind of balance which is okay, you've got more negative and how do you work with it?
But the third thing is just as important and that is positive feedback.
Stutman talks about some leaders who get praise and they get more praise and they get more praise and more praise they're like little kids on day. They're like these parents who are going good job, good job, good job, good job. They're never really fixing or giving precise feedback. And then one day the kid suddenly runs into someone else who says, “No, this is not a good job.” This is not as wonderful as you think it is, and they don't know what to do.
They're struggling, and they think that person is wrong.
Of course, that person hasn't balanced it, But they think the person is wrong because their parents and their teachers and all the leaders in their lives, all the people above them have given them positive feedback, which is unreal. And you think that people would be very happy with just positive feedback, but just recently on the cartooning course that we had was drawing really well.
People tend to start like stick figures and they start or rather they struggle through it. But this person was pretty adept at drawing. So she was already confident with her drawing or at least her drawings looked like she had a lot of confidence. And where I struggled was to give negative feedback because not only was she doing the drawings but she was doing very complex drawings.
When people learn a new skill, they tend to stay with something that's as simple as possible so that they can get it right. And she was doing extremely complicated drawings that I could not fix. And so I would say this is really good. And she wanted to hear that, but she also wanted to know what you could fix. It was completely pointless going through a course where the teacher says you've already done this really well and that really well and that really well is like what is this course about?
Do I not improve in some way how am I going to fix?
If I'm already really good at it I'm already a genius at it, why am I doing this? And so that's the flip side of things. So we have to have balance in, we also have to finish this podcast so that there's some balance.
So the summary we've already kind of covered, but in one word it is about balance and statement he underlines these words even though it's kind of the same word he says you want to give detailed elaborate vivid feedback because that's what we already do with the bad stuff but let's move it to the good stuff as well. And that's how people then await your feedback because they know there's balance.
And that's the one thing that you can do. That's the one thing that I have to do because every single day that's what I have to do at 5000 BC in the membership site when someone asks for a critique or when someone posts something or even an email. That's what I have to do. Primarily why I've done this podcast is to underline this idea for myself when I next deal with anybody. And I hope that you'll put that balance in place as well.