Thanks for the Feedback with Sheila Heen

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Every year, corporations spend millions of dollars in training their managers how to give feedback to their employees, but it is the receiver who is in charge in any feedback situation. The problem isn’t that companies don’t give their employees enough feedback; it is that companies don’t know how to receive feedback.

What is feedback? Feedback is all of the information out there about you. It is your relationship with the world and the world’s relationship with you. The mirror offers us feedback on what we look like at the moment. Our Facebook feeds offer us feedback on our interests and interactions. And the church gossip who is talking about us behind out back is offering a kind of feedback as well.

According to Sheila Heen, there are two basic human needs:

  • The need to learn and grow.
  • The need to feel accepted, respected, or loved the way we are now.

Feedback often feels like it puts these two things in opposition to each other, but that is because we don’t know how to receive it. Let’s look at the three different kinds of feedback out there.

  • Evaluation – This is where you rank among peers.
  • Coaching – This is what helps you learn and grow.
  • Appreciation – This is what helps people feel like they matter. It keeps us motivated.

To put this into context, imagine the last time you got back a term paper from school. Evaluation is the grade on the back page. Coaching is the comments in red ink that tell you what was wrong and how to improve. Appreciation is the teacher’s message on the front that says, “Great job!”

Every organization needs all three to survive. Usually, appreciation is usually the first to go. And then evaluation and coaching get tangled up together. But regardless of the quality of the feedback we’re getting, we often reject it anyway.

There are three basic triggered reactions that cause us to block feedback.

  • Truth Triggers – Is it true?
  • Relationship Triggers – Do I trust the source of the feedback?
  • Identity Triggers – Does it fit with the story that I tell myself about myself?

In order to receive feedback well, we must learn not to react first thing. We can’t assume that we know the story without getting all of the facts of what the giver means. We need to see ourselves clearly by getting rid of our blind spots. In order to do that, we have to ask a friend for honest feedback and supportive help.

When leaders become good feedback receivers:

  • you’ll get honest and helpful feedback.
  • you’ll role model the behavior that you want to see.
  • you’ll automatically become a better feedback giver.

Lastly, the key to getting the kind of feedback that is most helpful is by focusing on “one thing.”

  • What is “one thing” that you particularly appreciate?
  • What is “one thing” that you seem me doing or not doing?
  • What is “one thing” that you feel I should change?

When we start receiving feedback well, people will start giving us more than just the “one thing” that we ask for. And when that happens, we will start to realize that true feedback isn’t a violation of the two basic human needs (growth & acceptance), but the best way to serve both.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sheila Heen has spent two decades at the Harvard Negotiation Project specializing in our most difficult conversations–where disagreements are strong, emotions run high and relationships become strained. Her firm, Triad Consulting Group, works with executive teams to strengthen their working relationships, work through tough conversations and make sound decisions together. She has written two New York Times bestsellers, including her most recent, Thanks for the Feedback, which helps leadership improve their ability to receive feedback.

Givers, Takers, and Matchers with Adam Grant

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“If I don’t look out for myself, no one else will.”

“Let me help you with that. It’d be my pleasure!”

Now let’s pause and reflect on the two statements above. Can you imagine them coming out of the same mouth? Probably not.

The first statement, “I have to watch out for my own interests first,” is representative of someone we’ll call a taker. You probably know someone like this. Takers aren’t necessarily or obviously evil, they just tend to put themselves first and try to get more out of situations than they put into them.

The second statement is very focused on putting others first and is typical of someone we’ll call a giver. Givers are wonderful people who are always thinking of how they can take care of other people, often to the detriment of themselves. You can probably think of someone like this too.

And now you are probably thinking that there should be a third type of person, because you don’t consider yourself a taker but you recognize that you probably aren’t a giver either. For people like us, there’s the term of matcher. Matchers are people who put as much into a situation as they pull out, not more and not less. Justice and fairness is extremely important to us (yes, I identify as a matcher).

Now, let’s take a look at how these kinds of people fit into an organization.

First, who do you think is at typically at the bottom of the totem pole within any organization? I know that we all want it to be the takers since we’d like to think that the people who exploit others should be rewarded for their selfishness with a lack of success, but that just isn’t true. We both know that at the bottom of the ladder are the givers–people who allow themselves to be trod upon, who are willing to put in long hours for people who have no interest in returning the favor.

Knowing that the bottom is filled with givers, who do you think is at the top? If you are a bit pessimistic like me, your first answer would be that takers rise to the top since they take from everyone else. Fortunately, we pessimists are wrong for once. It isn’t takers who dominate leadership.

It must be matchers then, right? Since matchers are concerned first and foremost about justice and fairness, we use all of the weapons in our arsenal to take down takers (fortunately takers also take down other takers since they can’t stand other people getting the things that they want too). But matchers aren’t at the top of the pile either.

In addition to populating the lowest rung of an organization’s society, givers also gather at the top of that society. Interesting, right?

Obviously, the implication is that in order to rise in our leadership positions, we should be givers. We should be willing to put in the long hours and put others first. If we do this well and for long enough, it will be noticed and it will be rewarded.

Speaker, Adam Grant, has a lot more to say about givers, takers, and matchers in his book, Give and Take. In addition to a killer hairstyle, Adam Grant has impressive academic and business credentials. His presentation was top-notch and if you get a chance to hear him, take it (but not as a taker would; do it in a giving way if possible).

Taking a Walk with my Writing

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I recently got the opportunity to hear author and pastor, Mark Batterson, talk about the book he’ll be releasing next fall. He introduced himself and told the following anecdote.

“If you think you are a leader, but no one is following, you’re just taking a walk. So I guess if you are a writer, and no one is reading your books, you’re just journaling.”

He isn’t wrong. Writers write so readers can read what they wrote. It’s a pretty great deal. But what if no one reads what you write? Is it still worthwhile to write if you know that no one is going to read it?

I’m going to do the one thing that I am probably most ill-equipped to do here and try out a sports analogy. If you are a basketball player, every hour you spend on the court is worthwhile. Even when you are missing baskets, even when no one is watching, you are honing your skills. I doubt any serious athlete would say that time in practice is wasted time.

I think the same is true for writers.

Published authors have drawers filled with broken and unreadable manuscripts, but the reason that they ended up getting published is precisely because they wrote those crappy novels first. They learned from their mistakes and probably thanked heaven that no one saw them.

And so I won’t be too bummed if no one reads my early works, my blog, or my works in progress, because I still see the value of journaling.

Innermost Secrets 9 – 15

I was thinking that this was going to be a Thursday post, but since tomorrow is Thanksgiving, I’ll do it a day early. That way, you have one more thing to be thankful for. If you have no idea why I’m starting at nine, you should probably start back at the beginning.

9th Innermost Secret:

  • I derive pleasure from demeaning the British (but only because I’m jealous).

The YMCA camp was part of a really cool program that hired English-speaking international staff for the summer. We had one girl from Australia, and a girl and some guys from England. Sometime before they got there, one of the English guys called the camp and I happened to pick up the phone. His Manchester accent was so thick, I had to tell him to call back because I had no idea what he was saying. By the end of the summer, I could understand him just fine, but I helped to watch him speaking. Over the phone I was at a complete loss.

10th Innermost Secret:

  • Jason is really my twin.

In an act of pure nepotism, I hired my former college suitemate, Jason. I’ve written about Jason before. He was the vice-president of the Valhalla Norwegian Society, and he and I shared some frightening similarities. People really did believe that we were related. And we had a lot of fun that summer. In addition to all of the normal fun of being at camp, Jason and I had a folk-rock comedy band in which we used bad British accents (see Innermost Secret #9) called The Electric Fandango. Jason is now a Latin teacher at a school nearby me. Maybe we should get the band back together.

11th Innermost Secret:

  • I like to wear pink undies (when I wear undies at all).

I feel no need to explain this secret.

12th Innermost Secret:

  • Jay Turpin is my father.

Jay was the camp’s executive director. He’s been mentioned before on the blog as well. I pranked him though he did not deserve it. Sorry Jay. Anyway, Jay is only like 10 years older than me, so if he were my dad, he would have had to get started at a pretty early age.

13th Innermost Secret:

  • Honey Mustard…

This is simply the title of one of the songs from The Electric Fandango (see Innermost Secret #10). The whole song is a declaration of love to Honey Mustard, God’s own condiment. The reason I wrote the song was because Honey Mustard was the only thing that enabled me to eat all of the processed chicken that showed up on the camp menu. Pretty much every other meal was some kind of processed chicken. But it was free processed chicken because I lived at camp, so I’m not going to complain too loudly.

14th Innermost Secret:

  • Sometimes I drink bleach.

This is stolen directly from a thing I saw David Letterman do one time. I only saw it once, but for some reason it really stuck with me. Letterman was going through his desk routine, playing the little games that he does when all of a sudden he reaches down and brings a jug of bleach to his lips, takes a deep drink and puts it down. No one says anything about it, so he does it again later. Finally, he says something like, “Isn’t anyone going to try to stop me? I’m drinking bleach for goodness sake.” I thought that was hilarious. I couldn’t tell you why now.

15th Innermost Secret:

  • I clean the bath house for fun and profit.

As the Visiting Groups Director, it was my responsibility to make sure that all of the facilities that my visiting groups used got cleaned up. I never wanted to be the type of boss who simply assigned the dirty tasks to my underlings, so I cleaned the bathhouse personally. And though it wasn’t always that much fun, I think it was a good way to help my staff feel appreciated. Plus, someone had to do it, and I was getting paid the most of any of my staff so it might as well have been me.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned next week for the continuation of my innermost secrets.

I am one to take offers literally.

I was a freshman in high school when my church got a new youth pastor. Pastor Alan Moody had me pegged as a quiet, shy, innocent boy when we first met, perhaps because I was a freshman and my older brother was a senior. It didn’t take long for him to realize his mistake.

Sometime in those first few weeks, he said to the youth group, “My door is always open. If you ever want to come by, feel free. Come over anytime. No exceptions.” Quite a statement.

Two years pass. We go on some mission trips, do some outreach things, and the youth group grows to love Pastor Alan.

During that year (my junior year, by which time I have my driver’s license), Pastor Alan arranged for four of us in the youth group (two guys, two gals) to take part in a weekend leadership seminar that was taking place at some Christian college a few hours away. We had signed all the necessary paperwork to be able to leave at the end of the school day in the church van in order to get down to the college in time.

But then the snowstorm hit.

Pastor Alan came to visit us during lunch to tell us that the seminar had been cancelled.

“That’s okay,” I said. “We’ll just come over to your house for the weekend. We’re already packed.”

It was true. Since we were planning on leaving from school, we all had packed bags sitting in our cars.

“Ha ha,” said Pastor Alan.

“You did say that we could come over anytime,” I said.

“Anytime,” he said, one eyebrow starting to lift.

“Great,” I said. “We’ll see you later.”

“Uh huh,” he said, eyebrows now knitted. “Later. Enjoy your weekend.”

That night, instead of leaving for the trip, the four of us attended the school’s varsity boys’ basketball game (three of us because we were in the jazz band that played at these events, the fourth to watch the game and the jazz band play). After the game, near 11:00pm, we left the school and drove over to Pastor Alan’s house and knocked on the door, arms full of luggage and convenience store snacks. His pregnant wife answered.

“Hi,” I said. “Pastor Alan said that your door is always open. So here we are.”

“Let me get Alan,” she said quietly, so as not to wake her four other kids.

Within about a minute, Pastor Alan came to the door.

“What are you doing here?”

“I said we were coming by.”

“The leadership thing was cancelled,” he said.

“Right,” I said. “Which is why we’re here instead.”

“…”

“Can we come in? It’s cold out here. You did say once that we could come over anytime.”

“Um,” he said. “Fine. But stay downstairs and try not to wake up the kids.”

We all went downstairs.

We played Nintendo games, ate junk food, and ended up waking at least one of the children. We stayed up to the wee hours and when we deemed it time for bed, the girls slept upstairs in the living room and the boys slept downstairs in the family room. I get the feeling that for the next week, Pastor Alan slept on the couch.

After my senior year, Pastor Alan took another job, becoming a camp director. The church got a new youth pastor. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in passing, Pastor Alan told the new youth pastor to avoid the phrase, “Come over anytime.”