Would you like me to tell you that you are bad at dealing with people because you don't listen, and that's why people don't trust you?
Would you like me to tell you that the presentation you just gave to your bosses' boss made you look ridiculous because it meandered, had no point, and you were wearing a hideous article of clothing?
Would you like me to tell you that you have a spider on your back?
What's the difference between these three things?
Recently I was meeting with the executive team of an amazing company where they told me they all did 360 evaluations regularly for each other, and they did them themselves. They also told me they had such good relationships with each other that they could "tell each other anything, any time," and that they regularly did.
What an awesome company! Wouldn't you love to work in a place like that? Except it was complete and utter rubbish. The CEO and his team really believed it, yet just a cursory inspection of the team and their dynamics highlighted disfunction caused by lack of self awareness, including political maneuvering, murky accountabilities, and some personal behaviors that should flat out not exist in a senior management team.
I don't blame them. But think that assertion through: we have such a good relationship we can tell each other anything. Is that ever true? After 12 years of marriage I believe I have a pretty good relationship with my wife, but can I tell her anything? Would I really tell her that the sweater she spent 10 hours knitting me for Christmas was ugly? Would I tell her that her relationship with our children suffers because she's too controlling? Would I tell her she's not as good looking as her best friend? (None of these things are true, by the way.)
What do I need to tell her? What does she deserve? What does she need?
Feedback is dangerous because it's powerful. It's the atomic bomb of our vernacular. Have you ever yelled out a hurtful truth to a loved one in the height of an argument just because you knew it would cut them in half?
The more true something is, the more it hurts. The more negative it is, the more it hurts. The more unknown it is, the more it hurts. Very true, very negative, very unknown feedback can rock your whole world. Very unknown, very good feedback can leave you smiling for days.
We all pick what we share, to whom we share it, and when we share it. All are carefully planned to reduce risk. Emotional risk to you and the person you are giving feedback to.
Think about all the times you have shared benign feedback for your friend with all his other friends. Why did you do that? Because you want him to hear it, but you don't have the fortitude to tell him to his face. So telling someone else 1. removes the burden from you (you have shared your insight, now you can relax), and 2. raises the hope that perhaps someone else will tell him. (Or by the mere fact that now everyone else knows it, he will somehow cotton on: which by the way is one of the most hurtful ways to give feedback ever.)
Think about the time you have shared a little bit of innocuous feedback to your significant other and they have flown off the handle. Or a time you gave the smallest compliment to someone and they lit up. Timing is everything.How you share it, is far more important that what you share. Also, think about the people you are prepared to hear feedback from. It's almost impossible to hear constructive criticism from someone you despise. Love and trust are vital. Respect is vital.
Maybe we hold back sometimes because we don't have the genuine love and trust we need. Without deep human connections, it's difficult to have the positive impact you need.
Bottom line is, we all deserve much more feedback. It's only through feedback that we can learn and grow. We get feedback from the world around us all the time: we can read the invisible threads of unspoken feedback, perceptions and the outcomes of our actions (which can take decades). But human to human feedback is the panacea. It's what life is all about.
Think of the last person who gave you feedback that changed your life. You loved that person. Guaranteed. But what came first, the feedback or the love?
Recently I read a great speech delivered by Sundar Pichai - He detailed an experience where he as an observer watched as a lady experienced a cockroach on her blouse as she and her friends enjoyed a meal at their favourite restaurant.
What happened next was astounding. Screaming, flapping of arms and a violent swatting in the general direction of the offending insect. The reaction was contagious and immediately the other members of her party became panicky as well.
Calmly and predictably the cockroach took flight (as this was a flying type of cockroach) and landed on another lady across from the first. A similar outburst ensued except this time the offended party stood up with great force sending her chair hurtling across the floor which gave her space and capacity to dance the mad dance of an afflicted restaurant patron.
It was at this point that the waiter who had until this point been standing a little way from the commotion calmly and decisively approached the maddened lady, in the relay of throwing arms and wild gesticulation the cockroach headed for safer landings of the waiters chest. The waiter then simply and calmly captured the insect in his hand, between fore finger and thumb and exited the unwanted guest forthwith.
He handled the chaos with near perfection restoring calm and bringing resolution to the problem.
Entertaining problem, amazing experience and quite predictable as well.
The insight gained from this simple story and observation is that it was not the cockroach that caused the chaos but rather the inability of the ladies to handle the disturbance caused by the cockroach that caused the chaos.
The real lesson is that if we are to act appropriately in any situation we need not REACT but rather RESPOND.
The waiter having had the time and presence of mind to observe, compute and think about his course of action was a responder not a reactor.
Reactions are always instinctive.
Responses are normally well thought out.
Having the output of a great 360 is like being the best waiter in the world of unruly cockroaches - it turns reactive bias into carefully crafted responses and this always leads to better outcomes.
At 360 Spark our mission is to give people insight to make the world better. For the last 15 years we have been providing research on complex people issues and change issues to the executive teams of multinational companies. It's been a fun ride.
Then one day we were talking to an up and coming Silicon Valley startup, and they told us that they conducted 360s on each other "regularly." That's awesome, we thought—until we saw how they did it. And then it hit us: This thing that we've been perfecting over the last decade and a half was really quite useful, far beyond our current audience. What if we could give the gift of insight to many, many more people?
A short time later 360 Spark was born with that mission. Because we believe that the world is a better place when we understand each other, when we understand ourselves, and when we understand the ideas that shape us and the world.