The Fetch Blog

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8 tips on how to give the best feedback of your life — May 6, 2015

8 tips on how to give the best feedback of your life

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This is a guest post from Shannon Byrne at our sister company, CloudPeeps.

Sharing feedback is tough no matter what circumstance you face. Most of us try to be constructive, to balance positive and negative, to tailor it to the recipients communication preferences and ideally, to communicate your overarching goals while sharing.

It’s nerve-racking.

The first thing to know is that the responsibility of sharing effective feedback should not rely solely on the provider. Feedback should be a two-way dialogue. Expectations should be set to create a collaborative environment open to feedback, and all parties should agree upon the end-goal in mind, as well as everyone’s role in reaching said goal.

Here’s eight tips for sharing more effective feedback and improving collaboration among your team, whether they’re in-house, freelance, or volunteer.

1) Keep it professional, but friendly

Feedback presented with hostility enters dangerous territory. The recipient will immediately become defensive, and the discussion will turn into an argument that lasts way too long. On the flip side, there’s a fine line between being empathetic and being passive when taking a friendlier, softer approach.

Remember that you’re having a professional conversation. When providing feedback, your tone should be friendly, but not overly casual; assertive, but not mean or demeaning.

The best way to refine your tone is to practice. Ask your loved ones, friends, and colleagues if you can practice giving them feedback, then have them critique your approach. How meta, right?

More importantly, remember that you’re talking to another professional — an expert on the thing that you hired them to work on.

This 2013 study from The Journal of Consumer Research says that when people are experts on a subject, or consider themselves experts, they’re more eager to hear negative feedback, while those novices are more likely to seek positive responses. Take this into consideration before having a feedback discussion with the recipient.

2) Be direct and candid

This Harvard Business Review article suggests that in order to get down to business and avoid weird anxious feelings among both the provider and recipient of feedback, start the conversation with a straightforward “I’m going to give you some feedback” or “Are you open to my coaching on this?”

This way, no one will be caught off guard by whatever it is you’re going to say next, which should be candid insights on what’s being presented.

Additionally, it’s possible to be candid without being mean. Be empathetic. But instead of starting a sentence with “Maybe instead you could…” start it with “Instead, you can take this approach…here’s why the results will be closer to what we’re looking for.”

With this approach, you’re solving a problem together rather than passive aggressively sharing what you would’ve done differently.

3) Share technical instructions, not emotional appeals

As mentioned in this New York Times article, author of “Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure,” Tim Hartford says: “We need to separate the emotional side from the technical points.” It’s not helpful to say “that’s really good” or “that’s really bad.” It’s helpful to explain how something should be done.

I’ve faced this challenge in providing feedback on pieces of writing before. Rather than saying “this is really good, but… ” to a specific point being made, I provide specific instructions, such as:

  • “Typically, our blog posts start with an impact — lead with the point you’re making, then back it up with research and opinions. Tell your story throughout, rather than all at the beginning.”
  • “There’s a lot of run-on sentences in this paragraph, here’s how you could break up this sentence, for example….”

You’ll see that the first example isn’t overly direct. That’s because the idea of disregarding someone’s feelings when giving feedback is a difficult one to swallow. Very few of us are good at sharing instructions without any emotional appeal. It’s ok to keep a level of empathy, as long as you’re still instructing on what needs to be corrected. Which leads to the next tip…

4) Avoid the compliment sandwich

So often when giving feedback we want to start by sharing something positive, then move to the constructive feedback. But of course we don’t want to end on a negative note, so we share something positive again then go on our merry way. We’ve been conditioned to give feedback this way.

The problem with this, is that often times it leads to the constructive part being lost entirely. Then, when a contract ends and you don’t renew with the contractor, they are left confused and perturbed.

This situation can be avoided by applying tip number three. Provide instructions rather than emotional appeals. Be clear in sharing the specific results you’re happy with, the ones you’re not, and why for both. That why is crucial here.

The why allows the recipient of feedback to understand what went wrong and how to correct their course of action. It relates the work that has been done (or hasn’t been done) back to the overarching goals that everyone involved has sought out to achieve.

The article “The Power of Feedback” by John Hattie and Helen Timperley published in The Review of Educational Research says that if providing positive feedback, sharing exactly what it is the recipient did correctly is more helpful than just telling them that they did a good job. This way, you’re creating a learning experience that the recipient can build from.

5) Share feedback often with regular check-ins

Timeliness is key to avoiding a potential disaster. Upon initial agreement of an engagement, set a schedule for results presentation and feedback. You can name this standing meeting however you like. Perhaps something along the lines of “weekly check-in” or “one-on-ones” in order to avoid any anxiousness among any party, or stigma that the meeting will be a lashing session on someone’s work or leadership style.

Rather, these meetings should be short and periodic reviews of what has been done correctly and what can be done better. It’s also a great time for the recipient of feedback to ask any questions they may have been uncomfortable interrupting the provider to ask.

Start each meeting by quickly reviewing what you’re going over and what the end result of the meeting should be. Then give each party plenty of time to present their work and to have collaborative discussion on the points made. Most importantly, make sure everyone involved walks away with action items owed to each other.

6) Develop a collaborative dialogue

The effectiveness of feedback is measured significantly by perception. By developing an understood and agreed-upon language for all parties to adopt when giving feedback, misunderstandings will be avoided. The result for the receiver is that they know when they’re being given constructive feedback, not just being scolded.

Allow your recipient to take part in defining this language. Maybe they have trouble differentiating when you’re sharing feedback from when you’re unhappy with something else happening in your life. By sharing this with you, you’re able to improve the process and create feedback guidelines together.

Roger Schwartz, author of “Smart Leaders, Smarter Teams” says that you should allow feedback recipients to share why they’ve taken the course of actions they have. This understanding lets you provide what they can specifically do to produce improved results next time. It also opens your mind to other potential solutions to the issue or work at hand.

7) Avoid micromanaging; let the recipient share their results first

This doesn’t mean that if you see an issue (let’s say a typo in a tweet) pop up that you shouldn’t say something. That isn’t micromanaging, that’s pointing out a typo and asking a colleague to be more careful and helping them to learn to pay attention to details.

However, if you’re commenting on every piece of work (or every tweet) you see published, the recipient is going to feel over-monitored and is going to resist any feedback you provide, before you even get a chance to properly share it.

Rather, let the recipient present the work they have done and the results from said work. From there, you can provide instructional and clear feedback on what has been done to your standards, what hasn’t, and why.

8) Have patience

Patience is an important quality in a leader, it’s also one of the most difficult ones to adopt and maintain. We all lose it sometimes, and that’s ok. However, when working with a team and several different personalities and work styles, patience is necessary to keep your sanity.

Sometimes you’re going to have to share the same piece of feedback three times before a change is made. People are busy and have a lot on their minds. Refining work is a process and some areas of work need more guidance than others. Have patience, but also set limitations on flexibility.

If it takes more than three times sharing the same piece of feedback, you likely need to assess how you’re presenting such feedback. Are you being clear? Is the recipient understanding what you’re saying? Don’t hesitate to ask them — have them repeat it back to you. How else are you going to know, and get better at sharing feedback?

Wrapping it up

These tips will help you improve your feedback style, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Working relationships are dynamic and unique to the individuals involved. Be honest and genuine with each other while maintaining an appropriate level of professionalism. It’s the only way you’ll learn how to effectively communicate with each other.

About our contributor // Shannon Byrne is the Chief Content Officer for CloudPeeps.

Interview: Sydney Local, Gretel Killeen — April 25, 2013

Interview: Sydney Local, Gretel Killeen

This week our community ambassador Jacqueline Shields interviews Australian journalist and author- Gretel Killeen. Follow Gretel on Twitter via @gretelkilleen.

Gretel Killeen’s career has run the gamut in the field of communication. She has written more than twenty books, hosted radio and television programs, worked as a journalist, a stand-up comic, and a voice artist. In addition, she has written and directed for film, TV and stage. She produced a documentary following the plight of AIDS orphans in Zambia, as well as profiles to raise awareness about unexploded ordinance in Laos, poverty in Bangladesh, the defense force on Australia Day in Taren Kaut, Afghanistan and rabies eradication in India. Gretel is a renowned MC, key note speaker and debater. She is currently channeling all of her experience into instructing individuals and corporations in the art of communication. Most of all, Gretel is keeping it real.

Gretel, you’ve recently moved into the corporate world to help executives and corporations improve their communication skills and find their authentic voice. How do the three areas of writing, performing and business interconnect?

To be truly successful in each of these three fields, you must stand out by expressing uniqueness. Unfortunately the pressures of society and the workplace until now have discouraged this and instead encouraged us to conform and suppress our individuality.

The Tall Poppy Syndrome in Australia has contributed to this. Women need look no further than our plethora of magazines to see how strong the message to fit in is. The ads tell us the importance of ‘being you’. However, upon opening the publication we see that page after page tells us what to wear, what to eat and how to be. It’s befuddling hypocrisy. Those who don’t conform are ridiculed and harshly judged.

Pulling people down who do stand out is accepted as the way our society operates. In the long term such inhibitors can lead to ordinariness in our personal and professional communications with a lack of integrity and profundity. I’m keenly aware of that when I gently encourage people to be themselves. It requires firm support and guts, but the rewards are enormous not only professionally but personally as well.

My team and I work to allow the unique voice to emerge with strength, confidence, and profundity… and dare I say it… enjoyment.

How do you differentiate an authentic voice from an inauthentic voice?

An inauthentic voice is dull and its speeches are riddled with clichés and predictability.

An authentic voice speaks from the heart and the mind; it surprises and engenders trust with its honesty. Those who speak with an authentic voice are those whom we subconsciously believe in and follow.

If we look at the corporate environment, those with an authentic voice are those who don’t use jargon. They acknowledge their faults and vulnerabilities, and in doing so come across as honest. There is in fact a move in corporate leadership towards embracing and acknowledging mistakes. This is increasingly becoming a requirement with the evolution of social media and the transparency this brings.

As a leader, you cannot afford to be deemed shallow, two dimensional or artificial. The day of the archetypal ‘suit’ has gone. The audience wants authenticity, and we teach people how to access and deliver that.

Who do you feel exemplifies an authentic voice?

Off the top of my head? Richard Branson, Mother Theresa and President Barack Obama. Obama is a classic example of an authentic voice. He conveys an overriding aura of ‘realness’. His delivery is to the point, said with feeling and often with humour.

In our country most politicians come across as perfectly rehearsed automatons. At the other end of the spectrum, stand-up comics are a group who exemplify having an authentic voice. They are the most successful communicators in Australia. They deal with the toughest crowds, are out on a limb expressing obscure new thoughts, and if they fail the audience is unforgiving. Their vulnerability is their selling point.

The exchange of information allowed by technology has led all communicators, whether comics or TED speakers, to raise the bar for the corporate world. The audience now knows what is possible. They do not and should not expect to be bored or unstimulated by a presentation. If the speaker does not touch his audience, move them or teach them… then perhaps he deserves to boo’d off or at the very least heckled.

What inspired you to share your skills with the corporates world?

I am obsessed with the expression of the individual and enabling each person’s unique self to show. I believe that we can do this at work and still effectively represent the corporation.

When we continually stifle the self, it results in deeper social issues such as depression. The pressure to hide yourself from society and to conform is incredibly strong. Of course no one fits into this mould and the result is that many feel an underlying sense of inadequacy… of not being good enough to present our real self. So we present a fictitious persona that is safe and dull; that could say what anyone else could be saying instead of standing out, being who we are and making it a fulfilling and stimulating experience for everyone.

I think the tide is slowly turning. No longer do we need to hide our personalities and all the things that make us real people. Before, especially in the 1990s, showing your true self was seen as self-indulgent. More and more you can talk about your life or share an insight into your passions, inject a sense of irony or humour, and use metaphors that resonate with you that others can relate to in your corporate persona.

With the rise of technology people are increasingly yearning for a real off-line connection. People want to be touched. Metaphorically, if not literally. But because we have been so focused on the fonts we use, the links to articles we share, the photos we show and hiding behind our online personas, we are losing confidence in face-to-face communication.

According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy”. -Jerry SeinfeldYou teach being ‘comfortable, fearless and powerful’ when presenting. Has this always been the case when you are in front of an audience? 

There have been times when I have been absolutely terrified. I remember when I first performed, I prayed for the ceiling of the building to collapse. Admittedly I was dressed as a drunk housewife in a black negligee. That said, it took me some time to realize that I was the only person who’d come to the event not planning to have a good time. In my career I’ve been criticised, vilified, praised, defamed and honoured. I’ve had to learn to swallow my nerves and believe in myself.

How do you do that? What is your approach when addressing an audience?

My approach is to have a logical structure to my presentation or performance because the skeleton of a presentation is vital. I remind myself that I am there to enrich, entertain, educate and enjoy. I focus on how this experience will benefit others and how it will also benefit me.

When I’m coaching in the corporate environment, I emphasis these three areas:

Remove the expectation of perfection. People don’t relate to perfection. They relate to flaws. So work out what you are comparing yourself to that is making you so insecure. Acknowledge that you are perfectly imperfect.

Have confidence in the value of your contribution and if you don’t feel you are saying something important… rewrite and prepare until you do.

Know what it is that you are trying to achieve i.e. when you go into battle you need to know what you are fighting for. You need to work out what you want your audience to feel and how you want to feel during and after the presentation.

What is the greatest problem most people have with public speaking? 

Fear that they will not be good enough and as a consequence they won’t be liked. However we forget that imperfection is what we relate to. Perfection is alienating.

It’s all really a question of self esteem. (Ironically however some people are appalling communicators because they have an excessive degree of confidence and inability to acknowledge the chasm between themselves and their audience.)

To overcome your fear you need to think through the goal of your material, familiarize yourself with it, and make it interesting to you and to your audience.

Your presentation is not something to be endured. If that is your approach then your audience will definitely feel it. You need to find your own uniqueness and strength and hone in on it. That might be your compassion, your statistics or your ability to self deprecate. You need to turn your uniqueness into your strength.

We also need to redefine the word ‘nervous’. Often we are actually ‘excited’ and not ‘nervous’. But if we are ‘nervous’ we need to ask what we are nervous about and break it down and solve each aspect of the anxiety. We need to treat it as a real foe and assess how we are going to defeat it. Saying to someone ‘ don’t be nervous’ is ineffective. What we need to do is apply the appropriate tools to conquer it so that we are focused and forceful.

One of these tools is having a structure to what you are saying. If there is logic to your presentation it takes a lot of the nerves out as it makes sense and flows. A speech, like any form of writing, needs a story arc. The story arc is very effectively applied in the film and TV industries to keep the audience captivated. This is knowing when to have the drama, the highlights, the intensity amongst your beginning, middle and end for the greatest impact for your audience.

Do you feel social media helps or hinders communication?

Both. Social media is fantastic in that it gives everyone a voice. But unfortunately it doesn’t give everyone something worth saying.  A lot of people use social media to communicate other people’s thoughts. This happens for a number of reasons. Perhaps they are too busy or too lazy to think for themselves, or perhaps they think it’s a positive to be aligned to someone else’s profile. And many people too simply bombard the world with constant messaging, whether they be their own thoughts or others’.

But the greatest use of social media is not quantity… it’s quality. Using social media to express individuality and uniqueness to bring information, enjoyment and enrichment to the lives of others.

About our Ambassador // Jacqueline Shields. Luckily Jacqueline is not a cat. She’d be on her ninth life. Her inquisitive nature sees her say yes to pretty much anything – a  Tough Mudder, an African Safari, sailing down the Nile in a felucca and even a HTML workshop. And each and everything she tries, she takes great joy in writing about. You can connect with Jacqueline on Twitter @hillrepeats.

 

3 Simple Steps To Becoming A Confident Public Speaker — April 17, 2013

3 Simple Steps To Becoming A Confident Public Speaker

Chris Petersilge

“Why would I want to embarrass myself in front of an audience, especially one full of attractive women?” I’d ask myself.

Turns out I wasn’t alone in that question.  It’s said people fear public speaking more than they do death.

At the same time, the ability to present effectively is a marker – and a maker – of success today’s society.  It doesn’t matter which profession you’re in – banker or creative – there’s a good chance the ability to speak confidently will directly impact your ability to persuade and achieve your objectives.

So I resigned myself to the fact that there was no way out of it. I had to figure out a way to hack my way through this. The only problem was, I wasn’t the charming, confident speaker I saw in these TED talks. I wanted to get on stage and wow people—but I was lost.

Then a mentor introduced me to the concept of ‘non-verbal indicators’. My TED talk-aspiring self instantly realised, “Hey, I can fake most of this stuff.”

Non-verbal indicators are small ways to control physical actions to make one appear to be more confident. They’re unnoticeable to the untrained eye, yet have a profound impact on the credibility and confidence of pitches, talks, and speeches.

There are some advanced, sexy non-verbal indicators that I could teach you, but I won’t.

Why? Because I can teach you just as much in this post with something deceptively simple: making meaningful eye contact.

Why meaningful eye contact? Simply, because it works–and it’s ridiculously easy to learn. Let me show you the three steps to meaningful eye contact: length, angle, and body position.

1) Eye Contact Length

Have you ever listened to a speaker and remarked at the end “Wow, they were speaking right to me”?

Most of us have a tendency to scan, but unfortunately, it destroys the confident impression we want to give off. But when we make three seconds of eye contact, we instantly connect with the audience.

At first, practicing three seconds of eye contact with an audience member may seem unnatural, especially with adrenaline running through you.

But that audience member will experience a speaker who is confident and personal, as if they are speaking just to them.

2) Eye Contact Angle

Remember the old driving rule: put you hands at 10 and 2? This applies to speaking as well.

Imagine a clock placed in front of you, with 12 noon facing forward. Then look out in the direction of the 10 o’clock and the 2 o’clock. Those are the sweet spots.

When I first introduce this to my students, many are worried that other audience members will feel neglected if they only face people at their 10 and 2.

But while you are making meaningful eye contact with one individual, audience members around that individual will all receive that personal connection, too.

So you don’t need to engage everyone in the audience for three seconds, just focus on those at your 10 and 2.

3) Body Position

You don’t want to look like a coy model turning on the catwalk when you speak. Well, maybe you do, but in that case, I’m not the right instructor for you. If you’re like my students, you want to look confident when you’re speaking.

That’s why it’s crucial to face the people you are speaking to.

While you don’t want to focus on individuals at the exclusion of the rest of the group (back-turners, I’m looking at you), facing someone will build that appearance of confidence.

So how you do actually learn this stuff?

Like any new skill, the best way to learn is by doing it! Grab your friends (or teddy bears, if you don’t have any friends) and practice.

Just by improving your eye contact length, angle, and body position, you can trick everyone into thinking you’re a confident speaker—until you do it enough times to actually become one.

About our contributor // Chris Petersilge is a professional communication skills coach based in Sydney who has personally tested his material at Fortune 1000 companies and startups in Silicon Valley. Learn more on the Sydney Speakers Facebook

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