Feedback is such an interesting concept. I have been thinking critically about it for months. I have learned a lot and my viewpoint on feedback has changed. I realized that much of the ‘feedback’ I have given or received is not feedback at all. It’s my opinion, my advice, my preferences, but not feedback. I have been operating at the National Enquirer level and I need to step up my game to at least a People and strive to get to a Wall Street Journal level of feedback.
In my feedback journey, I am paying attention to all aspects of my life. Early in 2016 I started a new hobby; photography. I am starting with basics of working on photo composition. I am trying to frame my picture, to not cut off limbs of people and include all parts of things that should be included. I am working on using leading lines and the rule of thirds to make the picture more pleasing and tell a story. I am using a manual setting to judge my exposure and get things in focus. These are basic concepts. I am not great at these things consistently yet. I have some great moments where I get a good shot. I have many more where I could improve. Along the journey I have received feedback from other photographers as well as given myself feedback. The phrase ‘I like it’, although nice to hear, is NOT feedback. It is an opinion. Opinion becomes feedback when specifics are added. This is feedback for me: ‘I like how the frame includes the whole tree and I can see the river in the distance leading me on a journey’. What we like or dislike about something is the feedback, not that we do or don’t. This blew my mind as I thought about all the feedback I have given that isn’t feedback at all!
Feedback that isn’t Feedback
Recently I received feedback on a class I taught. It was a new class and I was new to teaching it. It was an overview for a topic in an area I have experience, although I do not have a depth of experience in. I discussed the opportunity with my leader and we felt comfortable with me teaching the course. I accepted the assignment. I studied and prepared with the person that created the course and felt ready to teach. I was unsure of how it would go. The class was a mix of people; a few with experience in the topic and most being new to the topic. The material was basic with exercises groups could use to practice the concepts. During the class I felt it was going well. I received feedback from a participant that was a graduate level teacher. She said that I was doing well and had a talent for teaching. Specifically she offered feedback that my examples were relevant and supportive of the course and that my rhythm was a good pace for learning. I was pleased to hear this, especially from an experienced instructor. She thanked me for adding the business analysis perspective to the course because she felt the organization needed it. I checked in with the senior leaders in the room at lunch to see if the course content was what they expected and how they felt the course was going. I received comments that they were pleased and it was what they thought it would be. I was willing to change course if the content was not meeting their needs. After the day, I was pleased with how well it went. The experience left me drained. I went home and slept for four hours that evening I was so exhausted! I was happy that I had tried something and according to the in person feedback and conversations it had gone well.
Listen to Feedback
I was surprised when I received the survey results from the course. Three experienced people rated my 4 out 7 for preparation, the only question on the survey about the instructor. In addition, this statement was shared: ‘Get a better instructor’. I read that and was crushed! That was so personal and mean! Initially I was hurt, crushed. That quickly was masked by anger and frustration. I felt defeated, like I was a failure. My emotional self was hurt that someone hadn’t liked my teaching. I also felt a sense of failure for my company. I started to think that I was a poor instructor and I was likely getting fired!
I had to stop and listen to the feedback. Then I needed to assess it. It took my analytical self to step back and think. I thought about the comment and what poor feedback it was. I had to discern what that comment meant. It was at best, an opinion and not feedback at all. Better instructor for what? I had to remember the other classes I had taught and received feedback at my skill and ability to help other learn new ideas, skills and tools. I know I am a good instructor, plus the feedback from the other people that I had checked in with at the class. I had to step away from the emotional wound and evaluate. As I thought about it, I framed the context. That comment was made from a person that was very experienced and likely didn’t understand that the course was an overview. The score for preparedness was a score for experience in the topic. It had nothing to do with me being prepared for the overview class. When I added that context I could see that viewpoint.
Act on the Feedback
My mind shifted and I understood that the problem had to do with unmet client expectations for the class. The fact is, I wasn’t an expert and I knew it. I agreed to teach an overview course, which I am qualified and competent to teach. The client was looking for something else. I did not want to teach the next section of the class because the client wanted more than the overview class. My next step was to act on the feedback. I called my boss and talked with him about this conflicting feedback and my assessment of the feedback context. We had the crucial conversation. I was so relieved when the answer was to send someone else! I knew I wouldn’t offer the detail the client wanted. We both learned something about feedback. He knew he needed to have the conversation with me and assured me I was a good instructor and it was unmet client expectations.
When feedback is received, it’s critical to stop and listen, then assess the feedback and finally to act on the feedback. Remove the emotional and analyze the feedback. Provide good feedback with facts and examples and not only opinions.
A BA Without Borders