Archive for May 2016

What did you learn from your feedback?

Early in my school leadership experience, I had a very difficult conversation with my boss – difficult because I was receiving feedback that I thought was unfair and untrue, in a way that was harsh and hurtful.  My dad helped me navigate that conversation well, and I learned from the experience (including, learning how to grow from feedback that I disagree with, as well as learning to see how I contribute to the issue even when the approach makes me instinctively become defensive).  How about you?  Share an experience, positive or negative, in which you received feedback that helped you grow.

“Thanks for the Feedback,” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen

Thanks for the Feedback, Stone and HeenRecently, I was attending a school leadership convention, and one of the speakers referenced (and highly recommended) the book Thanks for the Feedback, by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. So, of course, I picked up a copy to read, and I have not been disappointed.

The book focuses on the topic of feedback, primarily from the perspective, and for the benefit, of the person receiving feedback (the subtitle is “The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well – even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and, frankly, you’re not in the mood”). The authors begin by identifying the three primary triggers that affect our response to feedback: truth triggers, relationship triggers, and identity triggers. The remainder of the book fleshes these out, and explains how to spot these triggers, and how to navigate the feedback well so that you can learn from it and have healthy dialogue.

I fully agree with the person who recommended this book, and so I in turn would highly recommend this book for you. Immediately after I started reading, I applied what I was learning in an interaction with one of my administrators. I had just finished reading chapter 2, which differentiates between feedback that comes as appreciation, as coaching, or as evaluation, when I needed to have a conversation to address a potential concern, and I was able to specifically explain the type of feedback I was giving, which helped it to be received in the way it was intended. Then a couple of weeks later, the business office received a dissatisfied email from a parent, and I was able to apply a lesson from the book to help those in the business office receive the feedback in way that helped them to understand the parent and to learn how to improve what was already a good process, as a result of the feedback.

This book also took me back to another time in my own life what I was being given feedback from my boss, and the feedback was difficult to receive, in part because I disagreed both with the messenger and with his method of delivery. My dad, again with his great wisdom, helped me to know how to enter that meeting prepared to receive the feedback I needed to hear in spite of the messenger, and years later I was able to look back and see what I had learned (both from the process, and from the circumstances that led to the meeting). Then, as I read this book, I found principles that directly reflected my dad’s wisdom so many years ago (which, for me, only affirmed my dad’s wisdom).

Therefore, I can say that this book is an excellent book on communication, and especially on the type of communication and response that takes place through feedback. It is practical, understandable, and beneficial, so if you haven’t read it, you ought to.

Incidentally, this is the third book I’ve read recently that also referenced Mindset, by Carol Dweck, which I likewise found to be an excellent book, and another one you definitely need to read if you haven’t done so already.

Week of May 9, 2016

“Either it’s true or it’s not”

A wise leader, upon hearing information, will remind himself that “either it’s true or it’s not,” and be diligent to determine the truth. Ask questions, look up facts, differentiate between causation and correlation, and get the full story. Then, whether it’s true or not, you will be more equipped to respond appropriately and will therefore make better decisions.

Either it’s true or it’s not

A couple of weeks ago, my family came together during a difficult time, when my father had a stroke.  As we gathered together in the hospital, with much uncertainty over the eventual outcome, often our conversations would turn to our memories of the words of wisdom he had shared over the years.  Some of it was quite funny, but all of it was wise.  Although, at the time I am writing this, we still do not know what will happen next, I thought it would be appropriate over the next few weeks to share some of the wisdom I have learned from him over the years.  Some will be a repeat of previous posts (because I had already been sharing his wisdom), and some will be topics I haven’t shared before.  This week, I am starting with one that I shared about a year and a half ago.

“Either it’s true or it’s not.” That was one of the phrases that I heard frequently from my father when I was younger, and, while it seems to be a simple statement, I have learned that it contains great truth. It makes me think of a recent television commercial for an insurance company in which a woman tells her friend that she is going on a date with a French model that she met online. When the “French model” shows up, he is obviously not what he claimed to be, but in her response, she claims that it must be true because she read it on the Internet. Or think about the typical statement made by a politician, the typical news story, or frequent social media claims (including the wealthy widow from Nigeria who needs your help to get her millions out of the country). Often, what is said comes from a personal bias, from a desire to win approval (or re-election), from incomplete information, or is simply a flat-out lie. And many (most?) people are quick to accept what they hear as truth, without question. The reality is, just because someone or something claims to be true does not mean that it is.

This is not a problem that is new to the current digital age. On October 30, 1938, a dramatic broadcast of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds caused a reaction due to its realistic portrayal of an alien invasion from Mars. In actuality, few people believed it to be true, but it still sparked a media outrage from the printed news on the believability of broadcast news. And history is full of rumors and legends that caused reactions and responses because a story was believed to be true.

This leads me to the importance of having an “either it’s true or it’s not” mindset. You will inevitably hear claims, statements, and rumors from every direction, whether from an employee, a supervisor, a constituent, or an external source. When you do, sometimes the tendency is to jump, and then to react immediately with a response because of what you have heard. But that’s dangerous, because it may be that what you have heard is not true, or contains misinformation, or is misleading or incomplete. And if that is so, your response could potentially make matters worse and reflect poorly on you.

When you understand that everything you hear may or may not be true, you will learn to respond to information by first confirming its truth. What a difference that makes in your response! On a surface level, this is as simple as checking facts and data to make sure that they are accurate. When it involves people, it requires asking questions to determine the full story and get all of the available information. And on a deeper level, it requires identifying nuances and implications to see if what is being stated is a valid application, because, as the study of statistics teaches us, “correlation does not imply causation” (which means that, just because two phenomena happen together, one did not necessarily cause the other even if it appears that way).

So what should you do? A wise leader, upon hearing information, will remind himself that “either it’s true or it’s not,” and be diligent to determine the truth. Ask questions, look up facts, differentiate between causation and correlation, and get the full story. Then, whether it’s true or not, you will be more equipped to respond appropriately and will therefore make better decisions.

Week of May 2, 2016