Therese Huston is a researcher, writer, cognitive therapist and professor. She’s done a lot and had her work featured in all kinds of places.
Therese found that the right feedback at the right time made all the difference in her career. In many ways it could make or break things for you.
In this conversation we dig into her career journey, some of the key ways that feedback was important to her along the way, and then dig into her expertise of how to give effective feedback.
Therese was a joy to speak with. As a fellow Pacific North West resident, I wish that the times were different and she and I could share a cup of coffee and discuss further. But for now, this conversation will have to do. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much I as I did.
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In this episode you’ll learn:
- What Therese does
- How did she get into this
- How did she find that this is the direction she wanted to go
- What is the intention behind her book and where did this come from in her work
- The steps to giving impactful feedback
- How to give feedback so the other person can actually hear it
- How good feedback can improve relationships
- How do you know when the space is safe enough for honest feedback
- What is her hope for the impact that this book will have
- How she defines good feedback
- What’s the change she want to be a part of making in her work
- How does she choose what her next book is going to be
Let’s Talk: Make Effective Feedback Your Superpower by Therese Huston
How Women Decide by Therese Huston
Software Generated Transcription:
Therese, thank you so much for joining me. Welcome to the Meaning Movement podcast.
Thank you so much, Dan. It’s a real treat to be here.
It’s a joy to have you really excited for this conversation. The place I like to begin is how do you begin to talk about the work that you do?
Well, what I often say is that I like to make smart people smarter at work. You know, we all want to be smart and we especially want to be smart at work, but we’re often looking for strategies on how to get there. And that’s what I try to do.
I love it. I love it. So what does that look like? How do you go about that?
Yeah, that’s usually the next question that people ask. What does that mean?
So I do that in a couple of ways. So I write and I’ve written three books now and I talk, I give a lot of talks that travel around the U.S. or at least pre-Covid I traveled around the U.S. Now I sit here in front of my computer and give more virtual talks and I consult. I work with companies or individuals to help them figure out what their limits are, how to overcome those limiters, how to give better feedback.
Those are the main three things. I write, I speak and I consult. And it’s really fulfilling work. I’ve got to say, I feel lucky.
Yeah, I love it.
So let’s just rewind a little bit. And how did you get into this and how did you find that this is the direction you want to go?
Well, if it’s all right, I’ll start with a story, kind of an early career story. So going back even further, when I was a little girl, I wanted to be a writer and I kind of kept this to myself.
You know, I’m sure we got many listeners out there who someday want to be writers.
So I want to be a writer. And I wanted this so badly that I converted my jewelry box into a storage bin. And what I would do is I would put names that I would thought would make good characters and I would store them in my jewelry box.
So every time I heard a TV character or a story, read something in a book that I thought, oh, that’s a great name, because I thought that when I got older and was actually a writer, I thought that was the hard part.
It’s kind of ridiculous. Names coming up with names. Right. When you’re seven years old, you don’t know what’s hard about you.
Right. So anyway, I was very passionate about becoming a writer.
I went to college. I discovered I like my science classes better than my literature classes. So I thought maybe I’d be a scientist first, be a writer second, and discovered I was really good at science. So I got my master’s and my Ph.D. in cognitive psychology. I got a prestigious fellowship in post-doctoral and clinical cognitive neuroscience. It’s a lot of words, but it basically means I was very much the you know, I was very much the scientist.
Very, very into the science. And then I got my first real job offer.
And here’s where it gets interesting. I got my first real job offer and it was at a medical center affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania.
If most of your listeners are in the U.S., they know that University of Pennsylvania is very prestigious. I was so excited right there. I was going to be affiliated with an Ivy League school.
But but as you know, it’s in Philadelphia. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Philadelphia, Dan, but Philadelphia is a little grittier than Seattle where we both live.
And at the time, the murder rate was high in Philadelphia.
So I was kind of nervous about this. So I go to my advisor to discuss whether I should take this job or not? I’m 90 percent sure I’m going to take the job.
So we sit down in her office and she is kind of sitting back chewing on her lip, being really quiet.
And I’m like, oh, you know, there’s kind of work I’ll get to do. And here’s the research and the female scientist. And I’m, you know. But can I handle riding the subway every day?
You know, where I’m going on and on with enthusiasm and almost false concern.
Right. And she’s being very quiet.
And and at some point she blurts out, she says, I don’t think you should take the job and it doesn’t have anything to do with the city, she said. I don’t know what your problem is, but you can’t write.
Yes, she said, or at least you can’t write yet, and I don’t know if it’s perfectionism, I don’t know if it’s confidence.
I don’t know what your problem is, but you don’t get any writing done. And this job is going to be mostly writing and I think you’re going to be miserable. And at which point, Dan, I started to cry. No. So no surprises there, right?
And and she softens and she said, look, I just want you to be happy. I really want you to be happy in life. And I think if you take this job because it’s mostly writing, you’re going to be miserable. And I don’t want that for you. So if you can figure out what your problem is and you can figure out how to write, then yes, take this job. But if you can’t figure out what your problem is, you should pass it up.
So I went into that conversation so hopeful and I left it crushed. I mean, I slinked back to my office. I felt so ashamed because she was right.
I never let drafts leave my draft folder. Right. I was, too. I was too much of a perfectionist. And so I turned down the job.
I took a different job, one that didn’t involve any writing, one that wasn’t at an Ivy League school. There were so many ways in which it was an inferior job, but there was no writing and that was hard feedback. And I think that was one of the moments in my life where I began to appreciate that getting candid feedback from someone can really make a difference because she’s right. I would have been miserable, so miserable in that job, I would not have, I would not have succeeded.
And so that was a crucial moment in my life where I received feedback that I needed to hear. And even though it was dug deep. Oh, you know, it hit a deep core. It was what I needed to hear.
Yeah. And so, now you’re a writer.
You write books.
So it sounds like maybe what did you do with that feedback and then how did you go from that place, you know, not taking that role because of the writing component to really having writing as a big part of what you’re doing now?
Yeah. So what happened was I spent about four years in jobs where I wasn’t writing. I became a university professor at a school where I just got to teach some university jobs or a lot of research and write some. A lot of teaching. I got a great job doing a lot of teaching. And about four years later, I got my first consulting job and I was working on a team where we did lots of research, but we only wrote internal reports.
Right. We wrote reports that were just within our team.
And one day we’re in a meeting, a team meeting, and my boss announces, well, Therese and I are going to write up this one study that we just did for publication. And I had never heard this. Right.
This is news to me. And so I went into her office later that day. I knock. She’s really busy. She’s signing this large stack of cards. I don’t even know what she’s doing.
But she’s signing things and she said, I only have a minute but come on in. So I come in, I shut the door behind me and I said, you know, about that article that you said we were going to write. Maybe you need to ask someone else at which point she stops. So she’s like, what do you mean? And I said, I can’t write.
And I didn’t want to go into the whole Marlene story, the story about that happened years before. But I told her I can’t write it.
She’s like, you’re being ridiculous. Of course you can write now. Like, No, no, you don’t understand emails, internal reports.
I can do all of that. But things for publication, I can’t do that.
She waves at me and she said, Oh, you’re being silly. I just like you wrote your master’s thesis.
You wrote your PHD. Of course you can write. She’s like, we’ll figure it out. So, you know, I don’t want to debate with her on this, but I’m dreading this. I go back to my office. She sends me an email suggesting, why don’t you write the first seven pages and then I’ll write a few pages and we’ll just go back and forth.
So it takes me weeks to write these seven pages because I’m being a perfectionist, going back, you know, reviewing the drafts painfully and literally dreading and dreading these shameful moments that I fear is ahead. I finally sent her the email, the draft of the first seven pages.
And I expect it’s going to take weeks that I’m going to hear back from her. But like the next day, like on my door, she’s in a suit, which means she’s in a hurry.
She comes in, she sticks out her arm.
She’s got, you know, a printed copy of what I gave her. And she says, OK, I’m in a hurry, so I can’t stay now. But I just wanted to give you this. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But don’t worry, we’re going to be fine. We’ll work it out together. And I’m like, oh, no, it’s so bad.
You can’t even say the words out loud. Right. Tell me how bad it is. And she said, you know, get a meeting on my calendar.
I’ll see you later. And she leaves and I take the document and I get up and I close the door behind her because I need to be alone with whatever awful things she’s had to say about my writing. Right.
And I, I sit down at my desk on the first page is a cover page that doesn’t have anything on it because it just got my title and her name and my name on it and I turn the page and now all these comments are in blue. Thank goodness they were in blue, not in red, but all these comments all over the page, but at the very top down, she had written in big letters. “You write beautifully”.
It touches me.
Can’t you feel that? And she underlined and she underlined beautifully twice. And it was the beginning all of a sudden, like, well, maybe, maybe I’m not handicapped as a writer. Maybe there’s potential for me. And that was the beginning. That was the beginning of my writing career. And she became a writing partner. And I then eventually got brave enough to write on my own. I took writing workshops. I joined a writing club.
You know, if there’s some writing support, I’ve done it. I’ve gone to writing conferences.
It lit a fire underneath me.
And it’s another example of how to get the right feedback and what’s three simple words. Right. You write beautifully. That’s that’s all it took to open up that possibility for me. And of course, then I also needed a lot of support and I needed a lot of learning that I had to do to get better at writing.
But it was really two fantastic feedback moments. And it’s led me to realize how at the right moment the right feedback can have such a pivotal moment in your career.
Mm hmm. I love it. That’s just both just beautiful stories. And what a fantastic, fantastic moment. Sounds like a fantastic relationship, you know, to help you, you know, move further into your work.
Into my work. Yeah. And she had and she had no idea. Right. She had you know, I wasn’t, I wasn’t going around saying to everyone, I want to be a writer and I’m no good at writing. I wasn’t sharing that right.
I have this insecurity. Will you help me resolve it?
Exactly right. Very, very few of us utter that sentence that you just utter right out of this insecurity. You help me resolve it, right?
I’m curious where the insecurity or if we can use that word at this moment where that came from in your story. And why did it feel so vulnerable for you?
Or, you know, I guess that perfections you mentioned, you use the phrase like, you know, that’s perfectionism like what was that about for you and where did that come from in your story?
There are probably multiple places that it comes from. But the one place that I know that’s very specific to my anxiety or perfectionism around writing when I was a little girl and I didn’t tell many people that I wanted to be a writer, but I did talk about it with my dad, who I was I was particularly close to.
And my dad also wanted to be a writer. He wasn’t successful in publishing anything but he was someone who wanted to be a writer. And Dan, he gave me the worst possible advice. He said any writer who’s any good doesn’t have to do second drafts, that they get it right the very first time.
Now, I don’t know where he read this.
Maybe he read it in, like, some Playboy interview. You know, It was some writer that he admired. You know, who knows where he got this insight. But he came away thinking that great writers get it right the first time.
And I couldn’t do drafts. And so that created this sense that I must not be legit. I’m an imposter because good writers know how to do this as soon as they sit down at their keyboard or as soon as they pick up their pen. And I think that created a false sense of what it meant to be a good writer. And it’s unfortunate.
I’m sure he meant well. I don’t know.
You know, he and I’ve never gone back to rehash that conversation where he got that terrible advice, but it definitely was impressionable.
Yeah. Yeah. Mm. Yeah.
And I know that those hopes and dreams that we have as kids can really, they can feel, I don’t know, almost like secret like these things that we have to hold so closely and to like let that hope and desire that this is something that you want to express to let that out into the world in a way that someone else can touch it and interact with it, just like in writing.
It’s really vulnerable. And so I could see how, you know, that your hopes and dreams, they’re layered on top of like this.
You know, I thought that you have to have it right the first time. It could really, I guess, dampen your voice and make it make it hard to. Hard to speak. Hard to write.
You know, it made it hard to write. And, you know, a theme that I see on your show is people trying to find their authentic voice. And I was you know, I figured out that I wanted to be a scientist. But what does that voice sound like as a scientist? That took me a while to find that place and find that confidence and a thing that I’ve one of the lessons that I take away, there’s this emphasis in our culture right now, you know, coming from Malcolm Gladwell, work around 10,000 hours.
You know, we need to practice to get good at something. Right. And when and I completely believe in the notion of private practice that if you practice in private, you get good at something, but you have. To practice in public to get confident, yeah, right. You need to get, you know, doing podcasts like this, right.
You could have practiced this quietly in your basement without any guests. Right. You could have done this a dozen times.
But until you actually do it with a guest that you don’t know, you don’t have much confidence in it.
Right. So it’s one of the things that was a good lesson for me, that if I hadn’t shared that writing with Susan, I never would have gotten over my anxieties or fears of being a poor writer. So you need to practice in public.
Mm hmm. That’s great. I mean, that’s a great takeaway. Even just right there for everyone listening and whatever it is that you’re pursuing, whether it’s writing or anything, there’s a need to do it in a way that others can can see it, interact with it, touch it and give you feedback on it to help you hone your skills and become, you know, become who you’re meant to be in that work.
I think that’s a big part of it.
And so you’ve gone on to write a handful of books, your next one, which at this point of this recording is yet to be released, hopefully at the time of release that it should just be hitting the shelves on January 26, 2021 . It’s called Let’s Talk Make Effective Feedback, Your Superpower, which is something that you’ve already seen in your stories, so beautifully illustrated. But I’m curious just what is the intention behind this book and where did this come from in your work?
So this book is written with managers in mind or anyone who has to give feedback at work. And the purpose of the book is to help people give feedback so the other person can actually hear you. So often we want to help someone with our feedback. We have great intentions. We see something that they’re doing wrong.
And yet we hesitate to give feedback because we don’t want to crush their spirit. We don’t want to say, you know what?
You were kind of lousy in that Zoom call today right? Your tech skills make you look old Therese or whatever it might be. Right.
There’s some piece of feedback we think is going to crush their spirit, and especially during Covid, we don’t want anyone feeling worse than they already do.
And so either we don’t give the feedback. And there’s data showing that 37 percent of managers in the United States dread critical feedback conversations. And managers I’ve interviewed think it’s much higher. It’s more than one out of three probably. They think it’s probably closer to 50 percent.
So a lot of us dread feedback conversations if our managers and the book then offers and I’m someone who’s not confrontational myself, I’m not this confident. You got to say what you’ve got to say. You’ve got to go. You’ve got to be harsh. I’m not the type of person at all.
And so this is a book about how to be kind and caring and give feedback in a way that the other person can hear. Because what’s important about good feedback is that it lands well, that it that it helps the other person. And that doesn’t mean that you aren’t holding them accountable. You’re still holding them accountable. You’re still trying to challenge them and help them move forward. But doing so in a way that that person can actually hear the feedback that their defenses don’t go up, that they can take it to heart.
Mm. I love it. I love it.
Is this mostly, you know, performance based feedback that you’re referring to or is it even more, you know. Yeah, I guess. Is it an approach that works also in more experiential or subjective feedback or maybe like if you know, you said something about how it wasn’t that Zoom call and that hurt my feelings. Like, does it apply to that kind of, you know, those kinds of interactions as well?
Right. Oh, no. It could definitely apply across other other settings. Yeah. I was thinking of a business audience. You know, it was kind of funny. I wanted to write when I first started the book, I wanted to write a book that would be helpful to both employees receiving feedback and the managers giving the feedback for everybody. Everybody is included here. And you know, my editors like to pick a lane.
Thereses, pick a lane. All right, all right.
She said, you know, if managers like the book, they’ll pass it on to their employees. I was like, OK, good point. But a lot of the models in the book or a lot of the advice in the book applies even in personal situations. So I’ll give you one example, Dan.
One of the critical steps so many of us skip when we’re giving feedback is to state our good intentions. I even forget I forget to state what my good intentions are.
And that might be something as simple as saying, you know, and, you know, I really want to help you be the most successful podcast host.
You can be right where it might be. I see you working so hard at this but I see one thing getting in your way. Right. And so acknowledging I’m here to help you get where you want to go, stating those good intentions are that.
Makes a huge difference, and I do it even in my personal relationships, right. At a recent experience with my husband, where he was struggling with something at work in his own job, and I said to him, man, like, it’s so hard for me to see this frustration come up for you. I really want this to not be a problem for you two months from now. Would it be OK if I gave you some feedback like, oh, my gosh, yes, if there’s a problem that I could get rid of? Absolutely.
Yes. Yes, that’s really helpful. Yeah.
So simply stating your good intentions and it’s something we skip, I think, because we assume, of course, we have good intentions. We want good things for the other person. But if you articulate them out loud, even if it might feel a little artificial, simply saying, you know, I want the best for you or I want to see you succeed. There’s research from Leslie John. She’s a Harvard Business School professor. She finds that simply saying a line like that, I want to see you succeed, opens up the other person to whatever you’re going to say and makes them like you more, as opposed to like you less when you give them bad news.
So it’s a really simple thing. You can start trying out at home.
Yeah, I love that.
I love that. I have three young kids, three, four, five, five and under and I can see that being really helpful, even even with them is something we’re always trying.
My wife and I are always trying to, you know, especially when they’re having hard, hard moments, you know, just as they’re having a big reaction to something that feels like, you know, maybe this shouldn’t be upsetting them or whatever, but to try to come into that interaction and to state, you know, this is what we want for them.
This is, you know, even if we don’t want them to be crying right now, but they’re probably right where they are right now and not our intention to get through this together. I could see that.
Yeah. A really helpful, I guess, starting point. What’s next after we state our intentions?
How do we bring that kind of feedback in a way that’s helpful? You know, what’s the next step in that? Is it a three step process or what is how do you think about, you know, these interactions, the format?
Oh, sure. Sure. Well, and I’m sure there are people who would love a three step formula or a seven step formula. Yes. And I have to admit, I haven’t gotten that quite reductionist about it. But I can give you a couple of steps that the research shows. And I take a very research based approach. That’s one of the ways that this book is different. I’m a researcher by training. As I said earlier, I’m a scientist.
So I try to look at the science, to what it says about how to give feedback so the other person can actually hear it. So one thing you can do is state your good intentions.
And, you know, I’m going to check back with you, Dan, later to find out if it’s working with your kids, because I guess I don’t have kids, but I can tell you it works with my husband, so.
Yes, OK, OK, Not much different.
Yeah, exactly. Not much different. That’s right.
So one step is to state your good intentions. Another important step is to if you’re going to be giving critical feedback, if you’re going to be saying something that you think might be hard for the other person to hear before you get to that piece of advice or before you get to that critical piece of feedback to say something equally specific that’s positive about their work. Right. So just talking about managers here, getting feedback to an employee, let’s say that you’re about to point out a problem with the fact that someone was slow to meet a deadline.
Right. So you need to bring that up. And a way to do that would be to say, you know.
I’m with the work that you turned in on Friday was at such a high level of detail and there was so much research that clearly went behind it. But I’m concerned that the work was due Wednesday and it came in on Friday. Right. So I’m starting with what I noticed about the work that was fabulous. But I’m concerned that it came at a cost, which was that we needed the work on Wednesday and it came in on Friday.
And you’ll notice a couple of things that I did there. Right.
So first of all, I’m starting with something positive, but I’m also not saying, hey, you turned in the work late right now because that language just immediately triggers everyone’s defenses.
Right. But to say instead. So I noticed the work came in on Friday, not on Wednesday is much more likely for that person to be able to say, yeah, I know, I know.
I felt so bad about that. But then they get into what happened and they’re less likely to be in a defensive posture and enlisting all of the defensive reasons why Wednesday was an impossible unmeetable deadline. Right. So starting with something and it needs to be specific. Right. Maybe you’ve heard of the feedback sandwich where managers start with something positive and then move to something negative. And that formula often is clumsy the way people execute it. Right.
They might say, Dan, I love your striped shirt.
Oh, but yeah, we need to talk about something.
You know, and it’s that the two are completely unrelated. The first one is superficial.
Or Dan, you know, you’ve got an impressive microphone set up there, but we thought we needed to talk about blank, right?
And that’s sloppy, but it also feels inauthentic. Right.
And a research team at Harvard finds that if you can start with something positive and then come to something negative, but if they’re equally specific, people pay much more attention to the critical piece of information. Because you’ve shown that you’ve noticed. Right. You’re paying attention. You’re not just focused on the negative or concerns that you have, but you’re also noticing the positives and people that are much more receptive to whatever it is that you have to say so. So, again, this is research showing that this is a great way to go.
And if you’re thoughtful about it, it’s easier than it sounds.
I love it just because I could imagine myself receiving that kind of feedback and feeling so much more seen in that conversation that it’s not like everything that I’ve done that’s good is just thrown out the window because I did this one thing bad.
But it’s instead a much more holistic approach to the work that I’m doing.
One of the research studies that I did and you’ve said it so well, people feel seen. One of the research studies that I did was I surveyed 417 people about one of their very worst feedback experiences at work. And one of the questions was what would have made that awful feedback experience better? Right. And what I expected, Dan, and maybe you expect this to what I expected people to say was it would have been better if I had trusted the person giving me feedback, because you open up any management book on feedback and they’ll talk about trust.
You have to build trust. And if there’s trust, the other person will be receptive to whatever you have to say. So I thought the trust was going to be a big issue. And it turns out trust was ranked 10th in terms of all the different things that would have made it better. And yeah, interesting. Right. Surprising. What was number one on that entire list was if the other person had just acknowledged the hard work that I’d done.
Right. So people want you to acknowledge the work they put into it and maybe you’re thinking, oh, Therese, you don’t know this.
One employee that I’ve got, like, hard work is not. It would be inauthentic for me to comment on their hard work. But usually there’s some piece of that, right.
That yeah. Maybe it’s even like something like, look, when you started this job, I couldn’t keep up with your work ethic. Right. But something’s changed. And I noticed that the work that you’re doing isn’t what it used to be. Right. So anyway, people want you to acknowledge what they’ve put into it and they want to feel seen that way.
Yeah, I love that. I love that.
I’m curious if in your research, if it feels like this is what we’re talking about, you know, these moments of these interactions, but you put enough of these moments together and it creates a you know, a lifestyle or a way of being.
And how much of this bleeds out from just, you know, having these difficult conversations or these difficult feedback moments to just everyday interactions? I don’t know if that’s exactly. I don’t feel like I articulated that well. But I guess what I’m saying is I’m thinking about noticing and validating and charming other people, how much that can improve a relationship and make space for these kinds of more difficult feedback moments.
Oh, beautifully said, right, in terms of validating people and validation is an important step that we often skip in feedback conversations to that’s another step is to say, hey, this this might be a little hard to hear or, you know, this might be a little bit awkward, but validating that this is and don’t focus on yourself. Right. So all too often, feedback givers will be like, well, you know, this is hard for me to like, OK, we’re not that worried about how hard this is for you.
Right. That’s not helping the other person.
Right. But it really does bring people closer. I have to say, one of my own mantras around feedback is good feedback givers make it OK to talk about mistakes, but great feedback givers make it safe to mention the unmentionable. And some of my most memorable feedback moments have been when I’m giving feedback to someone where I bring up something that we haven’t talked about that I anticipate is going to be a very sensitive issue. But if you know Fred Rogers, the late Mr. Rogers used to have a saying that you want to make the unmentionable, mentionable, right?
And I love that because if it’s OK, if it’s OK for me to mention something, then it’s OK for us to talk about it. You need to do it in a kind way. I’ll bring up one quick example of what I mean by that. So, for instance, I was working with someone and I was helping a professor. Like I said, I help professors, help good professors become your favorite professors. That’s one of the elements of my job.
And I was working with a professor. It was our very first meeting. She was about ten minutes late for the meeting, ten minutes late getting to my office. But, you know, my office is hard to find. She’s never been there. I didn’t think much of it right. We talk about the class that she’s teaching, about how students aren’t liking it as much as she thought they should. We end the meeting. We schedule our next meeting.
Second meeting. She comes in. She’s late to the second meeting. To Dan, just a couple of minutes. Not as late as the first time, but she’s still late.
So we’re about midway through the meeting and we’re talking we’re brainstorming.
Why might her students not like this class were planning for me to come to class so I can watch her teach and I decide to do the daring thing? And I said to her, like, so I hope it’s OK that I mention this. I’ve noticed you’ve been late to both of our meetings so far. Is that a challenge for you? Oh, my goodness.
You should have seen her face, right? She starts to tear up. She gets quiet. And she said that is a huge challenge for me. And then we get into it. Then we start talking about what happens right before she needs to be someplace. Is this a problem for class? And it is she would be preparing so hard for class up to the very last minute that then she’d be late for class. Right. And she’d she’d be rushing and then she’d feel discombobulated when she got there.
And now we were into the heart of the issue, because if you’re late for class, I don’t know if you’ve ever had any professors who were late for class, but it immediately reduces your credibility. Right. You know, it’s OK if it happens once and you apologize. But she wouldn’t even mention it. She just would launch right into class. And so this became now the issue that we worked on about what could she do to make sure that she was prepared and walking into class early and in by our third or fourth meeting, she was coming in saying, this has revolutionized my life to have someone that I can talk about this with because it was so embarrassing to her.
Right. And this isn’t a story where we became best friends or best buddies or anything like that.
But I bring it up because it allowed her to talk about something that was a source of shame and discomfort and that no one had had the courage to bring up with her. And even in that moment, Dan, it felt scary to bring this up with her, right? Yeah, I could have easily just skipped.
And I’ve noticed that this happened. I should have easily skipped that. But I’m so glad that I brought it up, because I’m sure on the day that I had attended her class, she wouldn’t have been late. Right. So I wouldn’t have known that this was a problem.
But she was able to bring her teaching evaluations up. Students were happier with her classes and it just took that moment of courage. So that’s one piece of advice I’d give your listeners. If you’re someone who’s noticed a pattern for someone that has that courage to bring it up in a kind way, starting with I’ve noticed this, is that a problem or something you run into that that person could be so grateful for your courage.
I love that. And I love that, you know, making that safe space to mention the unmentionable. It feels like a really important goal to strive for in these kinds of interactions.
I’m curious about the courage piece. Cause that’s a big deal for a lot of people, for myself, especially when it’s a piece of feedback that feels like it might be particularly painful.
And how do we. Yeah, I don’t know.
What is the question here, I guess. How do you know when the space is safe enough?
To bring it up?
And it’s not even just for the other person to hear it, but also for you in bringing that case it’s really sensitive or that they take it wrong or deflect it back to you or I don’t know.
I mean, this might get more of these kinds of subjective interactions, more so than hard data points.
But, yeah, I’m curious about your thoughts on that.
You know, someone asked me a question similar to that recently, and I’ve got to think about it. I do think there’s an element of emotional intelligence here of being able to read the situation. And I haven’t figured yet how to articulate that. But I do think that one strategy, you know, one piece of language you can have ready to say would be to say, I’ve noticed this is something that would be helpful to talk about? Right.
And that way you give the other person permission to say, oh, wow, no, actually, it’s not right.
I did that with some with a different professor that I was working with. I got the impression that his shyness might be a problem in the classroom. And I brought it up with him. And I and I asked the question like, would this be helpful to talk about or would you rather not discuss this? And he said, well, my goodness, yes, can we talk about that? Because I’ve often wondered if that’s a problem. But, you know, I don’t know how my students see my shyness.
Do they think I’m arrogant? Can they tell that I’m just shy and easily embarrassed? What is it anyway? So asking permission. Would this be OK to talk about or would you rather not discuss it? If you’re a manager and someone’s always turning in things late, then we have to discuss it. Right. There’s no there’s no getting around that. But if it’s perhaps more of a personality or a style issue that you’re raising, you know, asking the other person’s permission is a fine way to go.
Yeah, that’s a great, great yeah. Great way to approach it. I love it. I love it. I’d love to just kind of zoom out a little bit on this book and just ask, you know, what is your hope for the impact that this book will have?
Putting your thoughts into a book is a huge, huge endeavor like so much so much work goes into this.
And you know what?
As you kind of imagine into the future, what is this book doing to the world in the world?
Oh, what a nice question. What do I hope that the book does? I would love to see more managers. Being brave in the feedback conversations, you know, as I said earlier, 37 percent dread them, maybe we can’t get rid of the dread, but we could at least be having those conversations. There’s also data that 21 percent of managers don’t give praise, that they find it hard to give praise.
I don’t know about you, but that seems ridiculously high. One in five managers finds it hard to to recognize people’s work, and especially during covid.
This is a time when people really need their efforts and they’re going above and beyond recognized. So, I hope that I can embolden people to have more of these conversations. And another big theme in the book is, is around bias in feedback. There’s data showing that men get better feedback than women.
And I’m not saying, Dan, that every piece of feedback that you have ever received catapulted your career. Right.
And then I’m sure you’ve had your own frustrating feedback conversations. But the general pattern is that men get more specific, actionable feedback than women do. And so that would be another thing that I’d love to see. I’d love to see women getting better feedback at work so that they’re not held back that way.
Yeah, I love that.
I guess that makes me think of how you define better feedback. Like what is good feedback.
And I ask this even as a manager I have people that, you know, that I manage. And I think one of the things that I struggle with is sometimes even knowing what to give them feedback on, I can tell them that was great, that was good. But then to give them the kind of feedback that they want, that they need, of course, I can ask them that. And that’s probably a good place to start.
But I’m curious, just your thoughts on how you define good feedback. Good feedback.
Yeah. We’re both doing the little finger quotes here as long as we talk about the good feedback.
So when you’re giving feedback on helpful things that you can do is make it specific and actionable. And that would be if you’re offering coaching advice, what you’d like to see. Another aspect of good feedback is to let people know what the impact is of their work, you know, if you’re giving them praise, you know, you’re fabulous with spreadsheets. And that allows me to be more organized going into meetings or because you’re so responsive on email, I never have to worry that something perhaps is not coming through, whatever it might be.
But to let them know how it makes your work better, how it makes the team better impact is important. The other part that’s that’s about good feedback is making it a conversation. All too often we get particularly if we’re anxious about giving the feedback, we rehearse our script and we rehearse how we’re going to say it. And then we’re just concerned with getting our words out there as the manager. And and again, the research shows, if it’s a two way conversation, if I ask you first, like, how do you think that went?
How do you think that presentation went this morning, then you’re more interested in my input after you’ve had a chance to tell me what you think. So another part of good feedback is to make it a two way conversation.
I love it. I love it. That’s great.
I’d love to even just you know, you can continue to zoom out here to think about your career and you know, where you’re going.
And I guess even to circle back, you know, to you kind of these two parallel tracks of scientist and writer, and consultant and like what is the legacy that you hoped to leave, if not that it has to be, of course, different than anything that you just listed for this particular book, because I imagine this book is, you know, a small expression of that.
But when you think about your work in the world, like, what’s the change you want to be a part of making?
What a nice question. I feel like you’re asking, you know, what would I like on my tombstone right now?
In some ways.
In some ways, yeah. That’s what I like.
Instead of, you know, I would love for when people think about my work that I made it I made it safe for them to make mistakes, that people felt comfortable coming to me to talk about mistakes and that together we co created solutions.
That would be a lovely impact I’d love to have, because I really do feel that if you could create solutions with people now, now we’ve both bought in. Right. And we’re both invested in seeing if it works or not. And we can have that conversation. Did it work, how did it go. Right. Because then we’re both excited about it as opposed to. All right, I’ll figure out how to make sure I can be more on time.
Right. You know, whatever it might be. But instead, it’s like, OK, well, which of those three things are you going to try? And let’s let’s check in a week and see if it worked, right? Yeah. So I would I would hope that people can both say that I’ve made it safe for them to talk about their mistakes and that we co created solutions, not the people who use the word co creator. I know that, but I like that word.
It’s a great word, thank you. Yeah, we collaborated on a solution. Yeah.
Yeah, it’s great. That’s great.
I guess, you know, even similar to that, how you probably very much oversimplify, but I’m going to ask you anyways.
How do you choose your next book is going to be this is I believe, your second that I know of. I know that you have many other, you know, writing projects over the years. But, you know, even thinking about that piece of legacy and then thinking about, OK, is my next focus of my work, my career.
How do you navigate those kinds of decisions? Where did this book come from, I guess, and when. Yeah, I guess how does that process go for you?
Yeah. You know, it’s funny. My agent wishes me that. I wish that I could tell her what my next book is going to be.
Right. You know, there’s always that next right now. Right? No, sorry. I’m not there yet.
There’s nothing that I’m hiding under the blanket. There’s nothing under the blanket yet.
Yes. I love just parenthetically, I love hearing that because it’s, you know, someone on my side where, like, I, I dream of writing a book, but I have a hard time thinking about like I don’t know what exactly I’m going to say to sort of hear that from from your perspective, like you don’t know what the next book after this one is going to be. It’s like, OK, she doesn’t have to know that yet.
That’s really relieving. So thank you for that.
And when covid is over, if you want to get together and have coffee and talk about writing, I would be happy.
I’d love to do that. But in terms of where this book idea came from, my last book was called How Women Decide and it’s about gender stereotypes about decision makers, how we see men as decision makers and the pressures they face, and how we see women as decision makers and the pressures they face at work. And I was going around the country giving talks about this book, and it would be interesting because when we’d get to the Q&A section, we don’t we’d always leave 10 or 15 minutes for Q&A at the end and the kind of questions that people would ask, you know, where you’ve got the mic in the center aisle and they walk up to the mic and they’d ask her questions.
And those would always be very business questions.
They’d be questions like, well, what do you do if you have a boss who, you know, blankety blank?
OK, great. And they keep it vague enough that no one felt indicted. But then afterwards, when people would come up to talk to me one on one, right now they’re going to ask the questions that really matter to them that they don’t want anyone else to hear.
A lot of the questions I received were about, you know, I get such crummy feedback from my boss at work. You know, women would come up and say, my boss just keeps telling me, keep doing what you’re doing. I don’t want to keep doing what I’m doing. I want to move up. Like, what do I say? How do I get my boss to be specific about what I do? Well, and I could tell that this really mattered to them because they were bringing it up.
One, you know, they were waiting in line behind ten other people so that they could ask this question. Right. And at first I didn’t have good advice for them, but it made me realize I need to think about this topic of how to solicit better feedback from your boss as well as what’s the problem? Why aren’t we giving good feedback to people? Are we just too busy? Is that why we’re saying, Allissa, just keep doing what you’re doing?
It’s great. You’re not a problem.
I appreciate that. I know what it is, what a disheartening message that is. And so that’s where and I think for me, that’s where each book idea comes from. I’m paying attention to what people keep asking me about. What’s the pattern that I see here? And when a pattern sparks my interest and then I find out there’s actually research related to that interest, that there’s an answer out there besides, you know, just my experience, but there’s actual research on it then that lights a fire and, you know, it becomes a book proposal.
I love it. I love it. Beautiful, beautiful answer. That’s really, really fun. Yeah, it is fun.
Yeah. Yeah. Hearing those, you pay attention to the themes and follow them and see where they see where they go.
Yeah. You know, there are other questions that people would ask when they’d come up. Like I once had someone ask, you know, how do I find the perfect soulmate.
Like I have no idea. Wow. Oh, OK. Yes. You have asked the golden question that so many of us wrestle with. Anyway, there were plenty of questions where I was like, no, we are not going down that path.
That’s not your work in the world to do so.
Beautifully said. That is not my work in the world to do. I wish you peace now. I must go forward and good luck finding him or her.
I love it. I love it.
Awesome. Well, this just been such a fun conversation. I know we’re coming up on our time here.
And just as we move towards wrapping up, if people are just resonating with who you are and you know what you’re doing in the world, want to follow along any action steps that you’d like to invite people to.
So two things. I would love it if people looked for a copy of my book. It’s called Let’s Talk, Make Effective Feedback Your Superpower. And you should be able to find it online, you know, soon, soon will be able to go back to bookstores, but for the time being, you should be able to find it online and your favorite bookstore.
And the other thing is, that encourages people just like I started with some stories about my best and worst, worst feedback experiences. Think about that for yourself. What were some of your best and worst feedback experiences? Because I’ll bet you can mine those four lessons about you know, I know, Dan, you’re all about passion and purpose and you’ll discover something about what you really care about what you value. If you think back about the feedback experiences that meant the most to you.
Yeah, I love that. And I couldn’t agree more. And often when I share my story of how I got into this. You know, found my way, I guess you could say I’m always finding it’s not like it’s a one and done and done deal, but it’s not straight back.
Moments of feedback were a really important part of that process for me personally.
And so just resonate with that so much. So thank you. Yeah. Thank you for that. And thank you so much for being on the show. I’m excited to pick up your book. I know that I think this is an area that I feel like can really help me with people that I manage. And I hope that it will help a lot of people.
I hope so, too. Thank you so much, Dan. This conversation has meant a lot to me. Thank you.
Yeah. Thank you. Likewise. Thanks so much for being on the show.