Breakfast of champions

Last week my eldest child Emily, who is now 10, asked me for some feedback on a talk she had prepared for school. I listened to her present it to me. She then said, “Well dad, what do you think?”Photo Feedback Form

I paused, processed what I had just heard and seen, reminded myself she is only 10 years old and my gorgeous first born child.    

I then said, “I think it’s pretty ordinary. It lacks planning and structure and it seems to me like you’ve rushed it”.

You should have seen how upset she was. She was almost in tears.

I knew that with a little more effort and some planning that she could do a lot better.

She was disappointed that my feedback was so blunt. I was surprised, as I would have thought by now she would have been used to it.

Feedback, it’s the breakfast of champions.

Providing high quality feedback is a tricky business.

My wife loves giving me feedback. She loves telling me I can give it out, but I can’t take it!

I love that feedback. It reminds me I need to keep working on how I receive feedback myself.

If you look back on your career I wonder how much of the soft natured well done feedback has really helped you. “Oh, that was a lovely presentation. Well done”.

It might have, like a can of “Red Bull”, given you a short term high. However after a few minutes its gone forever.

I can recall as a young cricketer receiving some feedback on my bowling, from former Australian Test Wicket Keeper Rodney Marsh over 20 years ago. “Hertzy, you bowled well today, but your fielding off your own bowling was sh—house!” I still remember it.

I remember when I started working as a Corporate Trainer almost 13 years ago I received some feedback from a client after a full-days session. I thought this will be terrific. I love feedback.

The feedback has stuck with me to this day. The client hadn’t attended the session but what they had noticed was, at the end of the day the training room had some flip chart paper left on the walls. They were upset about this. It had created some extra aggravation for them.

Unlike the flip chart paper which fell off the walls after a few hours, the feedback has stuck with me to this day. Since that comment I think of the training room, like a putting green.  I always like to leave it in a better condition than I found it.

Specific and timely feedback on something done well or something not done well seems to be the key to improving performance. Athletes thrive on this.

Watch the quality of the feedback a young person receives from an excellent coach or teacher when they are learning to swing a tennis racket, ski or play the piano. Notice the word quality, not quantity. Be careful that it’s not too often.

As Bart Simpson famously said to Homer, “Dad, you say that so often, it’s lost all its meaning”.

That’s my issue with the overabundance of awards for kids. It appears to devalue the time that they really deserve an award.

At my children’s school the kids get awards for almost anything. A merit award for having good manners. Star award for doing great homework. A special award for being polite. Next assembly, I’m concerned that there will be an award for any children who didn’t win an award.

What’s your own approach to giving feedback?

Your own approach is almost certainly shaped like most things in life, from your upbringing.

Did you grow up in a home where no matter what you did it wasn’t good enough? Alternatively, when you broke wind, were you complemented on its tone, volume and very pleasant odour?

Here’s a few things to consider;

  1. Have you ever met anyone who has said to you that they had to leave their last job as they were receiving too much positive feedback?
  2. Has a marriage ever broken down due to an over-abundance of positive comments to a spouse?
  3. What should you do about providing feedback on areas that aren’t working well?
  4. If you sugar coat feedback, will the real message be lost?

Like most things in life, if you really want to, I am sure you can become better at providing feedback. Both positive and where required negative.

Next time you are on the receiving end of feedback, why not take a moment to say, “Hang on a minute, can I just write this down? I love it when you provide me with timely feedback”.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt about feedback over the past 45 years it would be that providing quality feedback on a regular basis is not easy to do. It takes courage, confidence and delicate timing.

Just ask my wife.

Posted in Leadership; Tagged Leadership; Posted by Steve Herzberg

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