On this podcast, I asked our instructor, Heather Mylan-Mains to join me. Heather is fresh off an awesome presenation at the BBC this year, Mastering the Art of Feedback. I asked her to join me today and share, with those who weren’t in at her presentation Vegas, more about what she was talking about and why feedback is so important.
Episode 20 | November 15, 2016 Business Analysis Podcast Transcript
Kupe: This is Kupe with B2TTraining. I am here today with Heather Mylan-Mains. She is one of B2T’s expert instructors. She is of a very BA mind. She was on a couple of shows ago with me when talked “Back to the Basics.”
On today’s show, we are talking about feedback. Heather is fresh off a conference out in Las Vegas: BBC Conference. Jacqueline and I actually did a live show from there, so if you check the TechnologyExpresso archive, you’ll hear that show. Jacqueline and I were talking about all the things happening at the BBC Conference, which is Building Business Capabilities. It’s the IIBA’s flagship conference that they do every year.
While there, Heather did a presentation on feedback. I thought it would be a great opportunity, for those who weren’t in Vegas, to learn more about what you were talking about and why it’s so important. I had the pleasure of working with Heather, getting ready, and doing some roleplaying. I was part of that, a little piece of the puzzle in the feedback presentation, but I had a blast. Heather, before we go into some of the specifics, why don’t you talk about why you came up with this presentation and what is it about?
Heather: Kupe, thanks for having me on. It was a great opportunity to be at BBC to share this presentation in particular. I am a person who takes things pretty personally, and I have had a problem receiving feedback. I’ve tried to understand why I take things so personally and why feedback can be hurtful to me sometimes when in fact, that’s not what the intention of feedback is. This presentation has come from my own exploration on feedback and how I can provide better feedback, how I can receive feedback, and really understand what feedback truly is vs. opinions, advice, and some of the things we might traditionally see or receive as a feedback loop. Really, that’s not feedback.
Feedback is kind of a priceless thing. The whole evolution of this was out of my own weaknesses and looking to get better at feedback. It’s exciting to me to share what I’ve learned, how I’ve grown, and it surprises me when I look at my feedback journey. I have a lot of stories and a lot of experiences, good and bad, that has helped me share this message more broadly. You were definitely a part of that feedback loop with my work with B2T; we have had a good feedback journey together. I know this is a topic that we talk about a lot.
Kupe: Yeah. Awesome. I know you and I have a lot of stories, and maybe we’ll share some of those for the audience today. I just want to say you are listening to BlogTalkRadio, Technology Expresso. I’m Kupe, the host of the show today. Jacqueline, unfortunately, was unavailable, but I do have Heather Mylan-Mains with me today. We’re talking about feedback, her story, and how she’s trying to help people improve and get better with feedback.
Heather, what’s the big deal here? I bet you everybody listening in every organization from around the world get their performance reviews on some level. Aren’t they given feedback then? Why isn’t that good enough? What’s the big deal here?
Heather: That’s so true, Kupe. If we look back to all of our years of employment, all of us have received feedback. In reality, sometimes the feedback really is not feedback. I was thinking, “What’s the problem with feedback?” I actually used my business analysis skills and crafted a feedback problem statement.
Here’s my statement: “The problem with poor feedback habits affects employees, team members, and leaders. The impact of which has frustrated people, [has caused] low-employer morale, and [has led to] teams that do not progress. A successful solution would be good feedback habits to improve team performance and create value to the organization.”
In essence, to me, I think there are really poor feedback habits. For example, when we’re receiving feedback and someone tells you, “I really like what you did,” that is an opinion and it gives me no information about what it was a person liked. On the flip side, they may say, “I really think that didn’t go well.” Again, that’s an opinion. I can’t improve anything with those statements. Really, a lot of the feedback we receive in a formal or informal fashion is really just advice or opinions, and they’re not actual feedback statements.
Kupe: I hear this one all the time, whether it’s to me or to other people: “Great job. Keep doing what you’re doing.” It’s like, what piece of what I’m doing works?
Heather: In that same conversation, someone could tell you, “I really don’t like what you did.” When someone says, “Keep doing what you’re doing. I love it. It’s great,” and another person says, “I really don’t like it,” then you don’t get information on either side of that spectrum what it is someone really liked or what it is someone really didn’t like. You can’t have anything to change.
Kupe: Right. So when is feedback given? I half-joked about performance reviews and isn’t that enough. Let’s not talk about what good feedback is, yet, but when should people be looking for feedback?
Heather: You know, that’s a great question, Kupe, and a great conversation because it’s constant. Anytime you’re interacting with anyone else, you’re receiving feedback. There could be non-verbal cues that you’re receiving. It doesn’t have to be formal. If you check with a BA, one of our main roles is to list information, and you list information in a lot of ways. One way is our requirements workshop.
During that interaction you’re going to see people responding to the question that you’re asking, to the information you’re trying to clarify, and that reaction is feedback. It could be a confused look, it could be that someone’s looking at the floor because they’re overwhelmed, it could be that they’re nodding in agreement. That’s all feedback. It’s not restricted to a formal setting. It’s everywhere and always constant. You have to pay attention, like basic stakeholder management.
Kupe: Right. When people hear, “Oh, we’re going to talk about feedback,” they’re thinking, “Ok, so I walk into my manager/peer’s office and we’re going to have a conversation about these specific things,” and that’s what they consider as feedback. But, you’re saying it’s always happening and you always have to be looking at it. You and I present a lot, so we’re in that mode of engaging the audience all the time to see if they’re with us.
Am I getting the head nods or are people falling asleep? Whatever it is so that you can make adjustments. Somebody doesn’t have to tell you, “Hey, Heather. You should be doing a better job with X,” but you can just look at their body language to know, “Ok, I have to do something different. Maybe I’m not exactly sure because they didn’t tell me why they’re nodding off, but maybe I can try something different.” Is that what you were kind of getting at?
Heather: Absolutely. That’s completely the concepts we need to go with. There’s the aspect, you mentioned presentations. Presenting as a BA and as a presenter period, we’re in front of a group of people, and we are dependent upon their interaction for feedback. Sometimes a session can go really well and you might wonder, “What went really well about it?” People were engaged. People are responding to me. They were a part of the conversation. It wasn’t just me lecturing someone.
I’m going to guess you and I both have done the same presentations with a different audience and had completely different results. That difference could be, in part, feedback engagement. It’s not just the giving of the feedback, but it’s being part of that reception loop. In communication, a message spoken isn’t communicated until someone receives it and understands it. Feedback is complex, actually. It’s not simple.
Kupe: Right. It’s so important, and it’s not easy. Most of the time, important thins in life are not easy. Even with the important relationships in your life are harder sometimes than those that are not so important or just a fringe kind of relationship. I always say, and I never say it about feedback but I guess I will now after talking to you, that with stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management, it’s about having you communicate and be more effective with the people we deal with day-in and day-out; it’s a tiring task, because it’s constant.
You’re constantly trying to figure out how to get better with engaging the person. Now, I see how what you’re actually looking for is feedback to make determinations on how to go forward. I’m a big believer in constant improvement, and if you really want to improve all the time, not just in chunks like going to a class or watching a webinar, but you can be learning every single day by trying to receive feedback. So, yeah; this is awesome.
Heather: That’s true. That’s a good point. One of the things that shifted my thinking on feedback, and I mentioned before that I had a problem. I realized that I would take any comment to heart. I joked in my presentation at BBC that I’ll hear things and think I’m getting fired, people don’t like me anymore, all these crazy stories I tell myself when that’s not it at all. You hit the nail on the head when you said, “I want to improve.”
When you shift your mindset and your paradigm that feedback is actually intended to build you up and you start receiving it that way, when someone cares enough to share with you something they didn’t like or that didn’t go well, you need to receive it and realize that this is an opportunity for you to improve. Quite frankly, none of us are great at everything all the time. Shifting your thinking is a big part of the reason why I can be better at this, now.
Kupe: Yeah. I know in your presentation you talked about what is good feedback and good vs. bad feedback. If you can go down this path, because you’re talking about how you reacted. You’re getting better, but this reaction that the world is coming to an end is the kind of attitude that I assume you’re not the only person that has it. Someone trying to give you tips or advice for improvement is hurtful because it’s talking about you. It’s not talking about some object, like, “I don’t like that building.” They don’t like you, and that hurts.
I can see how you can go to the far extreme and say, “My manager just gave me feedback. I’m losing my job. That’s it. I’m not going to have a house.” Going down this scary path. What’s your advice to people on receiving feedback? If feedback is so important, and we’ll get to your really good tips on what good feedback is so people can not only recognize what good feedback is, but so they can respond to it and ask more questions. So, how should people receive feedback? What’s your advice so they don’t go crazy?
Heather: So true. I think the fast advice I can give is to start to see feedback differently, to start to hear the message and separate the hurt and the emotion that might come with that message. Literally I visualize it as if it’s two boxes: a box that the hurtful piece goes into and a box that the feedback of what they liked, or what I can do differently goes into. You need to put those into two different boxes, and I might visualize it as I’m receiving it, like, “That needs to be set aside. I need to take my emotions out and listen to the piece that can make me better.”
When we receive that feedback, too, we have got to have a viewpoint that someone has our best interests at heart and that they are not a vindictive, evil person that really wants to see you fail. I’m going to hope, and that’s part of my mindset, that you’re receiving information with the intent to build you up. If I want to get better at something, yes, it hurts to hear I’m not good at something, but I also have to be realistic and acknowledge that I’m not always awesome at everything. And that’s ok, because if we had no room to improve, we’d be perfect, and how boring would that be? I think the world is better with a little bit of flaws and a little improvement opportunity.
So, separate that. Take the emotion out of it. That’s so hard to do. It’s easy for me to say, but it’s very, very hard to have to use your analysis skills and separate that out. That’s one of the very first foundations. Just start to take the emotion out of things. You’re going to be better at receiving a message, because when I hear something and I’m too emotional, then I can’t hear the feedback; I get distracted.
Kupe: Yeah, it gets muddy. You’re not hearing the nuggets that you need to hear, but you’re just hearing the hurtful things and taking it. Sometimes I think maybe I come across as too naive or some might say ignorant, but I never try to, like when someone says something to you and you’re like, “They have a hidden agenda. They’re trying to do this.” I take the approach of assuming people don’t have a hidden agenda so that I don’t waste time or take time thinking about, “What exactly do they mean by saying that?” I take people’s word for it.
That’s kind of the attitude you’re trying to take. Just listen for the nuggets. I think most people are better dealing with people that think they have flaws and want help to improve rather than people that are just, “I’m awesome.” That was one of our role-plays. You put up a slide that said, “Hello, my name is Awesome.” Acting like that. But, people don’t want to work with people like that.
Heather: They don’t. The first step of receiving good feedback is we just need to listen. Along with that, you have a good story about the assessment piece. You need to listen to it and do some analyzing: What does this mean; how do I assess this for me; what will work; what won’t work; what’s my objective or goal. You shared a good story. I think it’s worthwhile to share on the show, about when you might receive feedback and not act on it.
Kupe: Yeah. I think the story Heather and I both tell is there’s listening for the feedback, there’s thanking people; don’t get defensive because what happens a lot of times when it is hurtful is you fight back. Try not to even respond when somebody’s giving you feedback with any information. Just say, “Thank you.” Like Heather is saying, once you have that feedback, figure out what you’re going to do with it.
Then I always say to give feedback on the feedback. Go back to the person and tell them, “Here’s what I’m doing differently. Thank you again for the feedback. Here’s what I’m going to change.” The caveat to the story that, Heather, you wanted me to share is you don’t always have to implement things that people tell you. If you ask for feedback and someone gives you advice to do XYZ, you know yourself the best and you need to be comfortable with how you implement that feedback or not.
The story I have, I always ask people for feedback on my presentations, and one person once said, “Hey Kupe, I’d be happy to give you feedback. You throw in a lot of slang words now and then, like gotta and lotta, and they aren’t real words in the dictionary. Try to tighten that up and use the proper words.”
I thanked them, I thought about it, and said: I’m probably not going to implement that advice because my whole goal with speaking is to be natural, transparent, free flowing; I’m not robotic in my script at all; If I have to think about every single word I’ve said, I would have to get more robotic and that would go against what I was trying to do.
I went back to the person and said, “Hey, I gotta tell you something.” If you remember, Heather, I think one person laughed at that joke, using gotta. Eventually, I’m sure everyone on the way home thought back like, “Oh, that’s why it was so funny.” But, I at least got one laugh at that.
I just went back to the person and said, “Hey, I’m not going to implement it. Here’s why.” The reason for that is, most people would be fine, but if I didn’t go back and give feedback on the feedback, then they would see me again, I would be using those same words, and they would get frustrated like, “I gave Kupe this feedback. He wanted the feedback, and then he didn’t do anything with it. So the next time he asks for feedback, I’m not going to give him feedback because I don’t have time to waste.”
Heather: Yeah, it’s true. Each of us has to decide what we’re going to do and what action we take as a result of the feedback. That’s also an important point about receiving feedback, that just because someone tells me something, I’m in charge of me. I’m in charge of what I improve and what I don’t improve, how I improve it, and how I have that conversation.
Sometimes even though people do have the best intention, there are situations, a psychological term, a concept of projection. There could be situations where someone is feeling inadequate about themselves for whatever reason, and they might give you feedback that is actually a projection of their own negative feelings and self-worth; they too apply it to you to make you feel that you’re somehow not measuring up. I have received some feedback like that before, and I had to really access, “Wait a minute. What does this mean?”
There was a situation that I’ll share briefly. I received very poor feedback, and this can be a segue into giving good feedback. When I say poor feedback, the statement was made in a course I was teaching. It said something like, “Get a good instructor.” Initially, as I read it, immediately I joked, “Kupe is going to fire me; I’m not a good teacher; I’m worthless; this is awful.” I’m reading it, and I put it in the box of the feelings and let the analytics come into play. I realized, “Oh, I remember this person. They have this background, and that feedback didn’t have anything to do with me, personally, as a teacher but more of an expectation of what the course was going to be like.”
They were feeling as if the course wasn’t meeting their needs and then projecting those feelings unto me as if I am inadequate. That was an interesting twist as I worked through that assessment, and I even called you about it like, “Kupe, I’m trying to figure this out. I prepared really hard. I did the best I could. I know I’m a good teacher, but this is confusing.” In that case, there wasn’t really anything I needed to change, but that was a process.
My initial thought still was, “I’m going to get fired; I’m not going to be successful.” I’m still not perfect at removing the emotion, but I was able to stop before I said anything more. I was able to assess it before I acted, and the action, in this case, was the conversation with you about, “What are we going to do next?” That was an important part of me receiving feedback better.
Kupe: It’s just like anything. There are stages of anger, sadness, blah, blah, blah — the seven emotions. You recognized this as something you need to continually work on: try not to get emotional about it. But, once you got through that emotion, it was, “Ok, let’s look at the facts.” This is good critical thinking. You were saying use your BA skills to decipher feedback. We looked at the facts and found out more information. It was that the course this person wanted was not what we were delivering. It wasn’t about you not being a good instructor, but it was about this person not getting the class they wanted.
Even feedback, for me as the president of the company, I can also take that feedback and say, “Oh, Heather wasn’t a good instructor. We have to move Heather on,” and make a wrong decision based on that feedback, too. Now, I’m even thinking that there’s this whole circle of people that are involved in feedback. In this case, I saw the feedback and you saw it.
Because it was about you, you went down, in the beginning, an emotional path, but I could’ve gone down another path of me making a bad decision based on feedback. It’s like, you have to give it time, especially when there’s serious feedback, like this. I would put this in a ‘serious’ bucket. It wasn’t like a little tweak, but it was, “Get a better instructor.” Take the time to stop, relax, and understand the facts; see what’s going on before acting on it.
Heather: Yeah, and there are cases where we individually receive feedback that’s so personal, and this is where I talked about the poor feedback habit. If I were to ever be in that person’s shoes and be involved in a course or a session at a conference that didn’t meet my expectations for whatever reason, I would indicate that. I would probably say, “I appreciate the context of this presentation, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I was hoping for more in-depth commentary on this topic or that topic. I felt the instructor didn’t bring that to the class.” That’s very different than, “Get a better instructor.
Kupe: Right. That gives you information to do something with.
Heather: It does. Emotional responses to feedback are also not helpful. When we’re angry, upset, or frustrated, and perhaps justifiably so, when we rattle off an angry email, that’s feedback. If the employers had a situation where they had been dealing with an employee, it’s still not improving, and their commentary is emotional-based, it’s not helpful. It becomes hurtful.
If I really were a poor instructor, and I’m not saying I can’t improve as an instructor, by the way. I absolutely can. If I were a poor instructor for that person, what was it that was poor? Were my examples confusing? Did I not follow an agenda? Did I not set an exercise up so they understood what was going on? Those are pieces of ‘poor instructor’ habits or ‘poor instructor’ performance that can be acted upon. That’s the difference between emotional feedback and actionable, good feedback.
Kupe: Right. Digging deeper into how to receive feedback is so important for all of us, because back to your point, you can sometimes go down an emotional path. Many of us do because it’s about us. I want to wrap up the receiving feedback side before we start dipping into how to get good feedback or what good feedback is. You said something, and I don’t know if you want to add anymore about this. During the presentation you said you have to mind your story. What does that mean?
Heather: Yes. That dovetails into providing feedback, too. I’m a big fan of the book Crucial Conversations, and I can say, that book and the training I received to use those techniques really changed my professional life and my personal life. The concept of minding your story is a really important one. In the context of feedback, even if I get a message, my initial thought — background, circumstances, who I am, who knows — is, “Oh my gosh, what did I do wrong?” My story can run into crazy thoughts of, “What did I do? Someone has complained. They’re unhappy with me. I’m going to get fired.” Crazy thoughts.
Let’s say I’m an analyst and I’ve scheduled an important meeting, but people are late. My thought can run into a story of, “They don’t even support me. They don’t have confidence in my ability to deliver.” The stories go crazy, so the concept of stories is we have to mind our own story. If I’m receiving feedback, I need to be in a mindset to understand this can be helpful. That’s where separating into the two boxes come in: the emotional box vs. ‘what’s the information I’m going to be hearing’ box. That’s part of minding your story.
Now, when you’re giving feedback, it applies the same way. You need to be giving feedback for the reasons to build someone up, to make them better, and not to just make them feel bad because you want to, because you can, or because you’re not having a good day. Our stories of why we’re providing and why we’re receiving are really important. That’s the concept of minding your story.
Kupe: Awesome. Great feedback. At the BBC Conference, the Keynote, the one that opened the conference, was Juliet Funt. It was such a good presentation. She was talking about pausing, thinking, and taking more time to do that in our lives. She did this great re-enactment of what our lives are like and how fast we’re moving from the minute we wake up to the minute we crash at night. We have to add more, what she calls, WhiteSpace, in our lives, to pause and think.
This also applies to the concept of feedback, to mind your story. Before you give feedback, stop, think, and make sure your head is in the mode of, “This is to help the person, and that’s the only reason I’m giving feedback.” What does good feedback look like? You talked about what bad feedback is, like, “Oh, great job,” or, “I didn’t like it.”
I’ll give this quick story. My son’s soccer coach club decided to make a change with the soccer coach, and I was talking to the coach that was let go. He said, “The feedback I got was I don’t have the values of the club; my values and the club’s values don’t align, but they didn’t say what those were.” They didn’t give him a chance to even improve and say, “Oh, wait a minute. Before, I didn’t see my actions were causing this. I get it. I’m going to change how I am so we do align.”
To me, that was bad feedback, that they just said, “Our values don’t align. We’re going in a different direction,” instead of giving information like, “Here’s why we don’t think the values align. This is what you’re doing. Can you change or is this just who you are?”
Heather: Yeah. That’s really of no help whatsoever. It’s probably a copout answer, because which values don’t align? And tell me why you think those values don’t align. They got halfway to some decent feedback by at least identifying something specific instead of, “I don’t like you,” or, “You’re just not fitting the vibe of our community.” If you truly want to provide good feedback, and even if the choice is, “We’re not going to hire you,” be specific about what it was.
For example, “Your values don’t align because I saw how you handled that game, and I didn’t appreciate how you coached the kid.” I’m making that up; I don’t know what the situation was, but something along that line would’ve been helpful, otherwise you’re left with a question mark of, “What was that all about?
Kupe: Right. This coach, now, doesn’t know what it was or what he did. To me, by not giving good feedback, it’s almost like you don’t give feedback. When you give bad feedback like that, it’s almost worse because now, to your point, who knows where his head is going: “What did I do? Am I terrible? I’m not going to coach anymore.” What’s the makeup, then, of good feedback? I know you have specifics.
Heather: Yep. Keys to constructive feedback. The concept of constructive meaning ‘to build someone up,’ and ‘to be helpful, productive, positive, and useful.’ First of all, you need to use facts. At any time when we’re providing some feedback, especially when there’s something deficient that we need to see improvement on, facts will make the big difference. What was it that happened that didn’t go well? Why didn’t it go well? What facts are at play that could show improvement on that? That goes along with the second key, which is to provide examples.
I told a story in the presentation about a time, my manager, who was new, and this was when I was working full-time at a company. She was new to her role, and she heard something from someone the week before she started writing my performance review. I don’t even remember the details of what it was, but it was not representative of anything more than an isolated incident; it was one person’s feelings and was not a representation of my performance. It ended up on my performance review without examples and without facts. It was just a general statement, that ‘Heather needs to improve communication’ or something like that.
When I dove into it a little more carefully with her, I actually advocated for myself and said, “I don’t understand why this is on my performance review. Now, you’re telling me this is an isolated example. Happened one time. Not repeated. It’s not really a performance issue. Maybe I had a bad day or maybe they had a bad day, but that doesn’t belong on my performance review.” I joked about my permanent record from school, how worried we are about those things being on our permanent record. I actually had a chance, in the performance review, to write down why I felt it was poor feedback and why it didn’t belong on my performance review.
That was a good example of another topic I like to have: advocating for self. Constructive feedback: use facts, provide examples, and thirdly, you need to be sincere. You have to really indicate your care and your sincerity for another person. Don’t be sarcastic and don’t be vague; be honest and sincere. We talked about this too, Kupe, that feedback is like poetry, and no one likes poetry. Both can be so brutally honest, raw, and hurtful and yet applicable. That honesty is so rare and so necessary.
Probably, you could see it as a weakness, but I think my biggest strength is I really do try to be honest. If you’re going to ask me my opinion, I’m going to share with you, to the best of my ability in an honest fashion, what I think. And that could hurt. It’s hard. Being willing to provide feedback, and you’ve mentioned earlier, thanking people for giving feedback on your feedback. Tell someone “Thank you,” and how it changes you, because it really does. Facts, examples, be sincere, be honest: these are the keys to providing good feedback.
Kupe: Yeah, that’s awesome. I told this story when we presented, and I tell it a lot, too, when I do my improv talks. In the South, I live in Atlanta, GA, and when I first moved here and I would do something, people would say, “Kupe, bless your heart.” At first, I thought, “Oh my gosh! This is like heaven. I’ve landed in a place where people are blessing me left and right. They love me!” Then, you quickly find out what “bless your heart” means. It’s not a positive thing, it’s not truthful, and it’s not helpful feedback. You know they think you’re stupid when you did something bad but you’re not really sure.
You want to be truthful. What that makes me think of is having trusting relationships. If you trust the person, and back to what you said. If you’re trusting that why they’re giving you the feedback is to help boost you up and to help you get better, then you’re going to receive feedback better and that person is going to be more honest with you. They’re going to feel like, “Oh, I can be honest without any retribution.” They don’t have to feel like, “Heather’s going to be mad at me or not think of me as good.”
A lot of us, a good chunk of people in the world including me, are pleasers. We don’t want to upset people, but at some point you have to switch. It doesn’t help people if you’re not truthful, and people see through that.
Heather: They do. One of the things that I taught, and this is more of a crucial conversation technique; it feels good to add this now. When you’re sharing a difficult message or you’re having a difficult conversation, it takes some bravery and confidence to even be willing to dive into that conversation. One of the techniques that I think softens the blow is called contrasting. Contrasting is really a powerful technique, and how you can use that is you start a conversation with assurance of what you don’t want to have happen. Talk about what you need, too.
For example, in the situation with the feedback about me being a poor instructor, I can contrast my commentary with you and say, “Kupe, I really enjoy being a teacher. I really want to keep that relationship up. I’m really concerned that this feedback has jeopardized our relationship, but I do need to talk with you about this feedback and how it makes us both feel.”
So, I’m letting you know that I value our relationship and that I still want to be working in that capacity, but I need to talk to you about something that’s bothering me. You mentioned it, before, and I hadn’t actually thought about it until today’s show. That’s why I love talking about these things because we have new ideas; we keep brainstorming on how to get better.
So, the concept of your approach could’ve been, “I can’t have any instructor that would ever receive this comment in my employ. They’re damaging my brand. This is unacceptable. She has to go.” That could’ve been a decision you would’ve made based on emotion and based on whatever you could’ve thought of. That’s a risk, too, and we were willing to have that crucial conversation together. In the end, we actually came to the same conclusion that we were both happy with, which was maybe a surprise for both of us.
Again, we were willing to have that conversation. Contrasting can be helpful to soften the blow. For me, and you know this about me, now, because I’ve talked to you about it so much. If you ever need to talk to me, “Heather, I still value you. I still think you’re great, but we need to talk about it.” That will help me know that you’re not going to fire me and that you still think I’m a value. It sounds silly.
Kupe: Right. That’s such a better approach than, we all know about sandwiching: give positive feedback, constructive feedback, then positive feedback again. It has that kind of flavor, but I think it gets to the point better. It’s saying, “Look. I value you. I want to keep working with you. I think you have all these strengths. With that, we still need to have this conversation because something happened, and we need to come to a resolution.” It’s going to be a tough conversation, but know in the back of your head: still love you, still want to work with you.
“Oh, Heather. You did such a great job in this class. You did terrible in this class,” and then on the backend saying something positive again. That’s great advice for giving good feedback, because then that helps the person to remove the emotion and not get as emotional because they’re not nervous about what could happen. And then, they can really listen to the feedback and improve from it.
Heather: True. When I say it changed my life, there are a couple things about it that really did change my life from both personal and professional conversations. A couple more tips I want to share, and then I do want to address the comment we got in the presentation.
The next technique is to commit to a mutual purpose. When you’re giving feedback, we have to understand that the two of us are involved in something that we have a mutual purpose of. In the context of our professional relationship with B2T, our mutual purpose is we want B2T to have a good brand because you want to continue to do self-training and I love training. Our mutual purpose is the betterment of this entire relationship. You want me to be seen as a good instructor, I want to be seen as confident to teach classes. So, there’s the mutual purpose, and that makes all the difference. That’s why we’re having the conversation. It’s for a reason.
The next thing, again, is stick to the facts. I mentioned when I’m receiving feedback, I need to set the emotions into a box. When I’m giving feedback, I need to separate the emotion into another box. I cannot focus on emotional pieces. I need to stick to the facts. In the presentation, as I was sharing this conversation, one of the participants said, “Well, does that really work?” He was a skeptic in the audience. Towards the end of the presentation, I timed it poorly, so that’s feedback for me that next time I do this, do it in a better order.
One of my pet peeves in general is when someone asks a question that doesn’t get answered. I literally cannot stand that, so that’s feedback often: people asked questions and you didn’t answer them, so I like to follow my own advice. So, I shared with him this story. If I have a pivotal professional moment in this feedback concept, it’s this story. I worked at a company, and I was a BA four, the most senior business analyst in the organization.
There was a decision from someone in corporate — this is a large organization with hundreds of BA’s — that if you were a BA four, you could not retain that title if you don’t lead people; you had to be a manager, which is a strange decision and not one I’m going to say I understand. It really had no impact on me in that my salary stayed the same, but my incentive compensation and my incentive plan changed by 2%. Of course, my initial response is that I’m not happy about this; it’s penalizing me even though I’m still great at my job.
All these conversations and stories going on, but I thought, “Wait, I just took this training. I just read this book. I’m going to practice.” I actually wrote a script, and I used the contrast technique to talk with my leader. Coincidentally, it’s the same leader who was the new leader. Sort of a challenge, but she got better and became open to conversations, which was great.
I sent out a statement that said, “I want you to know that I value you. I appreciate you as my manager. You have been a good advocate for me, and I really don’t want to jeopardize our relationship. But, I do need to talk with you about what has happened as a result of this corporate decision.” I outlined the facts, and I stuck to the facts. I said, “This change, I appreciate it didn’t affect my compensation. However, it did affect my incentive. I did the math, and this dollar amount at the rate we’ve been receiving bonuses equals a week’s vacation, a week’s pay. And I know you cannot give me a week’s pay, but I would like a week time off and compensation for this switch that penalized me.”
I asked in the presentation, “How many of you think I got the time off?” The large majority, I didn’t get statistic on it, but most people said they didn’t think it worked. The great thing was is that it did. That was my pivotal moment of “This can work.” I didn’t berate her. I didn’t deal with the emotion of how it made me feel, that I got screwed out of this money and all those natural feelings you might feel. I stuck to the facts, I used contrasting statements, the mutual purpose was, “I want to keep working for you and keep being a good employee,” and I was able to get the additional week off.
It was powerful, to me, that this stuff works. Giving good feedback when we’re having a problem can actually help us to resolution without the emotion and the drama. It was great.
Kupe: It’s like these constants that you’re talking about, I even go to being a good BA and trying to understand what the root problem is and what the root cause is. Every time you talk about removing emotion, I start thinking about critical thinking, getting to the facts. It’s even having that contrast. Even when someone comes to a BA saying, “Hey, we need this implement today,” maybe using some of these tips to roll people back to understand what the real problem is rather than just going with someone’s emotion. A lot of times, someone higher up than us in an organization that is paying us, it’s like, “You need to do what I’m asking.”
And this is a good way to try to remove their emotion from everything and be able to roll them back. Yeah, this has been awesome. I know the presentation ended very emotionally and raw. I did videotape it. I don’t know if it’s good quality, but hopefully one day you’ll be able to post that. It would be interesting to see if the presentation continues to end like that or it moves you to the place that you got to. I don’t know if you want to tell that story.
Heather: The emotion is still there, Kupe. I’m tearing up as I think about how it ended. The story, I share a little bit of a video clip from Chelsea Handler.
It talks about her feelings of jealousy and how she handled things. You and I have known each other for quite some time through IIBA. I’m a graduate of B2TTraining and a big fan of what B2T represents, and it certainly launched my career. I’m thankful for the instructors and the opportunity. I wanted to work with B2T, and we talked about different ways on how I could do that. We landed on teaching, and of course, for those of you who have taught, you understand it’s not the same as mentoring or coaching.
It’s a different skill set, and I’m, again, not perfect at everything. I was hesitant about how I could do it, and the first assignment I had didn’t quite work out, so I was nervous about the second one. It didn’t work out timing wise, and the decision was I wouldn’t team teach that time. I was a little raw, but I ended up team teaching with someone who was so experienced. Kathy has been a great mentor for me, and I appreciate her feedback. I called you after that experience and was like, “Kupe, I feel bad. People had the ‘Kathy experience,’ and I eventually showed my hand at the top. Then, they had the ‘Heather experience.’ “
I said, “I don’t think I’m ever going to be as good as Kathy. I’m not sure this training thing is for me.” I was really kind of upset about it, and you’re talking to me like, “You know what, Heather? You’re going to be great for you.” It was such a sweet thing to hear, that, “You’re going to be great because of you and what you bring.” That’s feedback. That’s honest, sincere feedback. Gave me the courage to keep trying it, and I think, aside from the most recent “get a better instructor,” I think I’m improving. I like it. I help people get better at their work.
Without you being willing to give me that feedback, I probably would’ve been, “This is hard. I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t compare to someone who has done it for 20 years and taught hundreds of classes,” and why in my right mind would I think I would be after the first time I do something? I think that’s an example to everyone trying someone. Even if you’re new in your career, be open to hearing what you need to do better. Be open to acknowledging that it’s going to take you time to get better at what you’re trying, but don’t stop because of one comment or your own feelings of inadequacy. Have a good mentor who will encourage you to keep trying, and see how you can improve.
Kupe: Yeah, that’s awesome. In closing, I think if you receive good feedback or if you’re able to receive that feedback, you’re going to be able to grow. Who knows where it could take you and what lessons you could learn when you don’t shut it off and being emotional about it. On the flipside, you just made me think of this, that if you receive feedback, you can improve for yourself, but if you can give really good feedback, think about all the people you can improve out there and help take them to the next level.
This is a really important topic, and I’m so glad we had the opportunity to do the presentation in Vegas and do it here on the radio show, and hopefully we’re already talking about doing it in other locations. I’m excited for you to continue to spread this word about feedback so people can always improve. Thank you so much, Heather, and thank you to all our listeners out there.
We try to do this radio show every other week, so tune in again. We’re going to do one on the 8th of December because that is our 1 year anniversary of this #AskAnAnalyst show. Jacqueline and I are excited and are going to have to come up with something special. On behalf of TechnologyExpresso, and Heather, thank you, and B2TTraining, thank you guys so much and we’ll see you next time.
If you have a question or comment, call 855-484-6837, leave a message and we’ll read it on our next episode. Also, please visit our Tech Expresso Cafe page on iTunes for this and other series!
Please enjoy our other episodes:
- Episode 1 | December 8, 2015: Podcast launch and general overview of business analysis today
- Episode 2 | December 22, 2015: 2015 in Review and Set Your Expectations for 2016
- Episode 3 | January 5, 2016: Your Business Analyst Career Path
- Episode 4 | January 19, 2016: Business Analysis Role Fits in Many Careers
- Episode 5 | February 9, 2016: Overcoming Business Analysis Project Failures
- Episode 6 | February 23, 2016: Good Business Analyst vs. Bad Business Analyst
- Episode 7 | March 8, 2016: Business Analyst FAQs
- Episode 8 | March 29, 2016: More Business Analysis FAQs
- Episode 9 | April 12, 2016: A Business Analyst Attitude for Success
- Episode 10 | April 29, 2016: Consider Your Business Analysis Thinking Approach
- Episode 11 | May 10, 2016: DiSC Assessment and the Project Team
- Episode 12 | May 24, 2016: Negotiation Approaches
- Episode 13 | June 7, 2016: Strategy Analysis and Strategic Thinking
- Episode 14 | July 5, 2016: Business Analysis Insight
- Episode 15 | July 19, 2016: The Remote Business Analyst
- Episode 16 | August 2, 2016: A Modern Agile Conversation
- Episode 17 | September 13, 2016: Back to Business Analysis Basics
- Episode 18 | October 4, 2016: More Business Analysis Basics
- Episode 19 | November 3, 2016: Live from #BBCCon
- Episode 21 | December 8, 2016: 1 Year Anniversary & 2016 Year in Review
- Episode 22 | January 10, 2017: Business Analysis in 2017
- Episode 23 | Janary 24, 2017: Is agile a methodology?
- Episode 24 | Janary 27, 2017: An Agile Mindset
- Episode 25 | February 7, 2017: State of Agile
- Episode 26 | February 28, 2017: Are BAs Becoming Obsolete?
- Episode 27 | March 23, 2017: Remote Agile Team Success