David Austin Rose Arrangement

Feedback – Giving and Receiving

A few nights ago, we received my sixth grade son’s quarterly evaluation.  Unlike a traditional report card with classes and grades, this is a more qualitative review.  It showed some areas for growth, and ended with the observation that my son could get better at being more self-reflective.  When we shared the report with him, his first reaction was to reject it all: “This is slanderous, it is all lies, who can we sue?”    While his reaction might seem a bit extreme even for a 12-year-old, the instinct may seem familiar to many of us when faced with unexpected feedback.   Our instinct may be to protect our sense of self-worth in that moment and not look for the growth opportunity that lies underneath.  Getting feedback like this requires that we either, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt “grow a skin like a rhinoceros,” or be ready with a sense of self-awareness that takes cultivation and practice, “to take criticism seriously, not personally,” as Hillary Clinton advised.     

As women leaders, this advice – to stay self-aware and open to feedback – may at first blush seem to contradict an earlier post in this series on quieting your inner critic; however, I’d argue that they are more closely aligned than you’d image.  Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone, authors of Thanks for the Feedback, found that the majority of leadership-coaching literature is focused on delivering, not receiving feedback, and found that most of that effort was lost.  In order to be able to give productive, proactive feedback, the recipient must be primed to receive it, starting with honoring “the part of us that wants to learn and grow, but protects the desire that we are respected for where we are, right now.”   Giving ourselves permission to recognize growth opportunities, especially when they make us uncomfortable, will prime us to be able to filter the feedback with what we know to be true about ourselves.

This stance may be effective at other times, as well.  We cannot (and shouldn’t) think we can just manifest this once a year around evaluation times.  If we aim to achieve the habit of excellence, especially around our vision or mission, this must become a daily practice.  Before seeking feedback from others, you might begin with a question: Are your actions in alignment with your intentions?  (Or as I said to my son, “are you bringing your best self to school?”)  If you think you are working your tail off, but spend more time on Skype complaining about your boss, you may be surprised when she calls you out on that, only fueling the inner critic that says you’re not good enough, and your boss will never be happy.   However, if you were juggling multiple priorities and needed to reschedule preparing a presentation at the last minute, a person whose actions were in alignment with her intentions would recognize the feedback that this presentation was pulled from her fanny and make a mental note to juggle differently next time, and move on to her next task.

After you do that inventory, you may want to check for legitimacy within teams you work with.  “Hey Janice from Accounting, you asked a great question in that briefing last week, can I ask, was there anything I could have done better to help sell my idea?”  If Janice says, “I wish the PowerPoint had more kittens,” you can check that against your own filter.  If she says you should slow down and take a few breaths before moving on to a new slide, you can think back to that moment of feeling breathless as you raced against the clock and recognize that as great feedback and something to work on in the future. 

Then, pay attention to what happens, keep checking back in to see if you are in alignment, and when that annual evaluation rolls around, you may surprise yourself by how much you are looking forward to it.

On the flip side, there is no dearth of research on giving feedback; organizational psychologists and leadership experts have created branded models of how to give constructive feedback.  Do you sandwich the feedback with praise/criticism/praise, which leaves employees feeling confused but managers feeling accomplished?  Or do you go the old SBI route: identify the Situation, name the Behavior, state the Impact on you, which keeps all the power with the person giving the feedback and may leave the employee feeling boxed in and defensive?   Like receiving, giving feedback takes an equal measure of self-awareness. 

Speaking of power relationships, one of the most difficult is when you need to give feedback to your boss, and not have it sound like you are complaining.  This is scary even in the best scenarios, but as a boss, I can tell you that this is what makes the difference between a good employee and a great one.  As leaders, we can only get better when we know where those opportunities are.   I love it when my team comes to me and begins with the phrase “there is something I need to manage up on.”  I drop my guard, assume the listening stance and lean in in anticipation.  This is my teachable moment, and a chance to model receptivity to feedback.

Feedback doesn’t have to be scary, but you do have to wrestle with the realization that there is always growth in that uncomfortable space where teachable moments lie. 

Spicy omlet with chicken salt and peper shakers

Your own best date: a guide to eating alone

10 Steps To The Best Meal of Your Life

Step 1 – Know why you want to do this

A younger version of myself had fantasies of traveling the world, eating in exquisite restaurants, seeing art and culture. For a long time, a lack of travel companions kept me home while the need for travel got stronger and louder. Eventually, I realized, if I was going to travel, I might have to do it alone.

Step 2- Decide you are going to do it

If this is really far outside your comfort zone, pick a date in the future and make an appointment for yourself. You don’t have to pick a place or even time, (that will come next). But commit to it. If you are reading this today, great! You’ll be ready in no time.

Step 3 – Pick a spot

Do you have a spot in mind? In my early 20s, I lived as a poor bohemian graduate student but dreamt of eating a meal at a fancy restaurant I drove past daily. Three months out from my birthday I started saving my pennies, made a reservation and took myself out for one of the best meals of my life. Written on the wall, above the entrance was a quote I’ve come to paraphrase often.

When you meet your maker, you will be called to account for the experiences you didn’t enjoy, not the ones you did.

Don’t live with regrets! Maybe it isn’t a fancy place, but a breakfast or brunch spot you read about online, maybe a co-worker mentioned a lunch place a few towns over and you’d love to try it. Or maybe you don’t know what you want. Thrillest and Eater have great food sections you can filter and search by neighborhood or by food type. Yelp will help you see what others recommend.

Step 4 – Review the website, including the menu

There is nothing worse than getting to a place, sitting down and realizing you don’t like anything on the menu or that your budget doesn’t align to theirs. Review the menu in advance and pick at least one meal you can fall back on if you get overwhelmed easily.

Step 5 – Arrive as your most confident self

Prepare for this event as you’d prepare for a real date! Take time to primp and prep, use one of those fancy bath bombs you’ve been saving for a special occasion or break out the Sephora samples you’ve hoarded in the back of your drawer. Wear something that makes you feel great about yourself and you feel comfortable in.

Step 6 – Pick Your Seat

You have a few options when it comes to seating and all have advantages:

  • Sit at the bar – This is casual and can be social. If there is an open kitchen you can keep an eye on the most popular items while you review the menu.
  • Table for one – If there is a host, ask for a table for one, and smile at the end while looking them in the eye. You just told them you are confident and want a better table than they were going to take you to. You’re welcome!
  • Communal Table – This can be a great way to eat in a new city while traveling. Ask your tablemates where else you should try, see or do. If they share your taste in the food they will most likely share your other interests too.

Step 7 – Occupy yourself

I believe it is acceptable to have a phone, book, journal, even a computer with you, depending on the environment. Save something good you’ve been meaning to read, or a journal prompt you’ve been meaning to get to. This is your quality time, how do you want to spend it?

Step 8 – Enjoy the meal

Sit, linger, savor each bite and have a second drink or a cup of coffee. Unless you are someplace where the turn-over is expected to be quick — say The Café DuMonde in New Orleans with long wait lines, two things on the menu and fast-pace wait staff – you are in no obligation to eat fast and leave.

Step 9 – Tip your wait staff.

You know this right? 20%

Step 10 – Reflect

You did it! How did it go, would you do it again, where are you going next? My birthday dinner out all those years ago started a passion for culinary adventures. I’m already planning my next trip, how about you?