Feedback is the breakfast food of champions.
Most people I know speak of how they require feedback and they always say “be very honest with me”. The rest of the people I know absolutely luuurve to give feedback, solicited or otherwise. I am also mindful that feedback is all about delivery both on the requesting and receiving side that makes all the difference. When one asks that you provide feedback it’s important to be mindful that at that moment they are placing their vulnerability at your feet and you should handle it with absolute responsible caution.
I am afraid to say that I was once given feedback and firstly didn’t realize what it was and not to mention secondly that I could not respond by way of acceptance.
One Friday afternoon while I sat in a group at the canteen for lunch one of my colleagues planted her jolly self beside me and proceeded to inform me that I had stickers under my shoes and they were showing.
Now being a black woman you must understand that I’ve become accustomed to having people at work in particular comment about my clothes, whether it be snide patronizing remarks which presuppose that my role in whatever team is purely ornamental. I’ve heard it all; I must admit that I have a bit of a chip on shoulder about it and swiftly “deal” with the perpetrators – I don’t suffer fools in this matter, well at least the old, under developed me didn’t.
I turned and looked at her flustered and said, “Well thanks but I already know, in fact I don’t understand what it is with everyone and their comments on my shoes” snootily. Being the person she is, she retorted stating that sometimes I should learn to just take the feedback, process it then respond because as you know there is a difference between reacting and responding.
This weighed heavily on my mind. On my trip to the ladies, I took a moment to look under my shoes to ascertain, in the privacy of my own cubicle (with what little bit of pride I had left) if my shoes really looked strange with the stickers on and what all the fuss was about. Besides, I liked the stickers, I’m aware of their presence and they are a measure of how well I’ve kept this pair of shoes.
Alas! I decided to take the stickers off and get the “haters” off my back.
A few weeks later, I wore the same pair of shoes and went into her office for a quick chat (because it’s important to gain social capital in the workplace). We discussed the stickers and she explained to me how much better, by better she said “less comical” I look without them attached to the soles of my shoes.
From that day I realized that I never want to go through my whole life with stickers under my shoes looking comical. This was symbolic of not just the actual stickers but of feedback in general. It was a silly thing to make such a big deal of it to begin with but from that day I decided that I’ll accept feedback when it’s given, even when it’s hard to hear or doesn’t make sense to me.
I also recently learnt about the “ouch moment”. This is a moment when you feel discomfort either in conversation or during a lecture, it’s usually a signal that this is information you need to learn or at least internalize for a moment and reflect upon. I find this gives power as our words have the ability to build or destroy and in responding one should consider the ecology. That is, the environment and relations between you and others around you and before you begin to respond or defend. Ask yourself, am I going to leave this person better off or worse off? Another point to consider is that things that challenge people normally present a change on either of 3 levers; sense of identity, their skills and sense of purpose.
In closing, Dr Meshack Khosa, the founder and CEO of Fresh Thinking Holdings has taught me about only focusing on the positive and rewarding the behavior that which you want to see. In a situation where you’re providing feedback to your team, remember this yet never shy away from the facts and keep it objective.