How Often Should I Give Feedback?

[this is  a summer report series repost]

My Smart House Cat

Sometimes our cat thinks she’s a dog. I believe this because when we house-trained our dog, we hung bells from the back door knob and he learned to ring them with his nose when he needed to go out. Persephone (my daughter named the cat for the Queen of the Underworld, which says more about my daughter than the cat, but not by much) observed this for a while, and then started to ring the bells herself.

I dutifully ran to the back door and let her out before realizing what I’d done. In that instant I’d trained the cat to expect that when she rang the bells somebody would open the door for her. Action and reward.

It’s been cold here in Calgary for a while, so even when we know Persephone is just checking to make sure the weather is the same out the back door as it was out the front just five minutes ago, she’s learned to be quite persistent. Eventually somebody will come along and let her out. Listening to the jangling bells is too annoying. Behaviour and reinforcement. The dog passed away about six weeks ago. We really could take the bells down, but I just don’t have the heart.

Many Fat Happy Monkeys

Training animals and giving feedback have some things in common. No, people aren’t cats, and humans aren’t monkeys. Yet there’s something to learn here. If you want to train a monkey to ride a skateboard, you don’t slap it on the skateboard and then yell at it for not performing tricks. First you put the skateboard in the cage. The monkey doesn’t freak out at this new and strange object that’s invaded its space.* You give it a slice of peach when it stays calm when the skateboard appears.

Maybe the monkey moves towards the skateboard. Peach slice. Maybe then the monkey touches the skateboard. Peach. The monkey sits on the skateboard. Peach. The monkey allows the trainer to push the monkey. Peach. Pretty soon you have a fat, happy monkey doing kick-turns and axle stalls.

The Human Advantage

Giving feedback to people isn’t really much different. The biggest difference is that because if we use language properly we can accelerate the process. Every movement, behaviour, or action in the right direction gets noticed and praised. Immediately, specifically, and sincerely. Progress ensues. Many fat happy monkeys, er, staff.

So what happens when the monkey throws the skateboard at the trainer? Nothing. Any body language, tone of voice, or facial expression that gives away anger is a clue on how to control the trainer. Animal trainers know that reacting to bad behaviour (shouting, waving arms, angry faces) is only letting the animal know what they need to do to provoke you.

Again, people are not monkeys (at least most aren’t). Funny enough it works the same way with many people. Emotions leak through, and that affects how the message we’re trying to give is received. Even on a subconscious level. If you can give specific, sincere feedback and still smile, then go ahead and give the feedback. If you can’t smile, then wait until you can. Otherwise you risk doing more harm than good.

Your Actions

In the next week, look for opportunities to give positive, specific feedback (or just a thank-you even) for people who are moving in the right direction. When somebody is trying, they’re actually looking for approval and encouragement.  Even if you suspect they got lucky or did it accidentally, recognize and reward at as many opportunities as you get. Don’t hold out on the peaches!

I wonder what it would take to get the cat on a skateboard?

Previous Blogs on Feedback:

Everybody Wants Feedback – having the courage to give feedback pays off for you, them, and the company
We Owe Ourselves Feedback
– how do you react when somebody gives you feedback?
Why Feedback Doesn’t Work

Train Yourself to Give Better Feedback
– start by practising this everyday for a week
Getting Better at Giving Feedback
– from their behaviour to your reaction and back again. Knowing what going on underneath the surface.

*I can’t remember where I read this example. If you know the source please let me know in the comments so I can give proper credit. Thanks.

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Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Many successful people fear being discovered as an imposter. So when you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re in good company!

body languageOne bit of self-help that really helps is the idea of “embodied cognition”, or how our posture and body affect our emotions as well as the reverse. Think of putting your hands on your hips, or flying like a superhero or the winner’s pose on a podium, literally, before a high-stakes social evaluation like a job interview, presentation, or speech.

body language

It makes you feel more confident, therefore you project confidence, and people will find you more credible, likeable, etc. Sound weird? Try it out after watching the TED talk on how body language shapes who you are, or read the Harvard study.

And remember, you’re good. Otherwise you wouldn’t be there.

 

*Thanks to Jack Malcolm at Practical Eloquence for reminding me of this phenom.

Bernie works with small, medium (and sometimes) large companies, start-ups, and volunteer organizations to help them set a vision that is executable, to be effective, and to surround themselves with people who will help them succeed. I believe the workplace is a place to thrive, not just survive. Call me if you want help transforming your business. 

Emotions are Contagious

There’s a joke I used to tell my Scouts around the campfire, when it was late and that youngest ones had turned in:

There was a pirate captain who, when attacked by the British Navy, called for his cabin boy to bring him his red vest. The captain fought bravely and his men, following his example, repulsed the Royal Navy ship trying to arrest (and then inevitably hang) them.

The cabin boy was curious but hadn’t worked up the courage to ask the captain why he called for a red vest when they were under attack. It seemed odd to the boy that a change of clothing be at the top of the captain’s mind at such a time.

The next time they were attacked, this time by three Royal Navy ships, the captain called for his red jacket. Again, he and his men fought bravely and barely managed to escape. The cabin boy couldn’t hold himself back any longer.

“Captain, sir, if you please. Whenever we’ve been attacked you’ve called for your red vest. The last time we fought off three ships, but not until you donned your red jacket, sir.”

“Yes, that’s right.”, replied the captain, “And you want to know why?”

“Yes sir, if I may.”

“Well, whenever there’s a chance I may be injured in a skirmish, I don my red vest or jacket so that the men won’t know if I’m injured and bleeding. That way they won’t lose heart no matter how dire our situation, and fight on.”

The cabin boy nodded and smiled, because he know knew how the captain inspired his men. “I want to be as brave as the captain one day.”, he thought to himself.

The next day six ships of the line came over the horizon, spotted the their ship, and made sail to catch the dread pirate.

“Shall I bring your red vest, sir?”, the cabin boy asked.

“No.”, said the captain.

“Shall I bring your red jacket, sir?”, the cabin boy asked again.

“No.”, said the captain.

“Then what shall I do, sir?”, the cabin boy asked a last time.

“Bring me my brown pants.”

One Email Outta Do It

Fourth in a series about communication and change management.

http://flic.kr/p/diquZA
Face to face communication is always best

I love email. It’s fast, it’s easy, its’ cheap. It also provides us a record of what was said. Sometimes it’s important to have a record.  Also I don’t have to ask people how their day’s going, or remember their kids kids’ names. But maybe that’s just me.

So what’s the problem with email? Words themselves make up only as much as 40% and maybe as little as 7% of communication. Words themselves are only a small part of what’s being communicated. So for trivial or strictly objective communication (“Where are we having lunch?”, “Please send me the numbers for the third quarter.”) email works just fine. After that, the chance of mis-communication goes up.

The more complicated the message, the greater the chance for mis-communication. The more emotionally laden the communication (“I think you have an attitude problem.”) the greater the likelihood of misunderstanding. The more people involved, or the less time people have worked together, the greater the opportunity for misinterpretation. Add all those together and the chance of added drama, resentment, and wasted effort is almost certain.

My experience, both as a manager and as a facilitator, is that mis-communication is really easy. You have to work really hard to *not* mis-communicate. Yet we often choose on one of the worst ways to talk to others about complicated, potentially emotional issues with people we don’t really know that well – email.

Fix #4  Talk to a Human

Talk face-to-face. Wash , rinse, repeat.

Mark Hortsman has an amusing saying (I paraphrase): “I’m glad to hear you want to work with people. All the jobs with trees and dogs are taken.” As managers and leaders we manage and lead people, not email. If our jobs were to manage email I wouldn’t have to write this blog post.

Keeping a record isn’t going to engage and influence people to change behaviour or create enthusiasm. Repeated human interaction, building relationships and trust, is the only thing that does.

Phone calls are better than emails for engaging human beings. Video-conferences better than phone calls. In person meetings better than video-conferences. One-on-one, face-to-face meetings are better still. Regular, repeated contact.

If you need a record of agreement, write it afterwards. First pick up the phone, walk down the hall, learn to speak publicly. Tell stories, have a vision, be passionate. Email is efficient  but it’s ineffective. If you’re a manager of human beings, learn to manage human beings. If you’re a manager of trees or dogs, carry on.

How Your Body Language Is Hurting You

Imagine the following unfolding in a boardroom: the CEO is holding his head in his hands, both palms covering his entire face. The person reporting to him is leaning back in his chair, ankle on knee, hands behind his back. The subordinate seems to be totally oblivious to the CEO. Even without hearing the words being spoken, what conclusions can you draw from this scenario?

My perception of the message was: “To hell with all of you. I didn’t meet the commitments I made. I don’t care, and there’s nothing you’re going to do about it.” Without intending to, and totally undermining his own credibility and long-standing relationships.

Was this his intended message? No. He works in a high-stress, highly volatile, deadline driven world. He’s good at what he does. I assume he wants to see the company succeed and grow. So why the subtle (or not so subtle) but loud message that contradicts this?

When I asked him, he told me “that’s how I think”. Pretty much the opposite of what other people were getting.

Bottom Line:

Watch your own body language, how it effects others around you, and what message they might be getting from you.

Try This:
Be aware of your body language and how it affects the people around you for the next week. What did you learn? What changes do you think you might need to make?

Other articles you may find interesting:
Body Language Basics for Dates and Job Interviews
How Science Can Teach You to Spot a Liar
How To Build Relationships Without Talking

How to Catch a Liar

Sometimes people don’t even know their lying, especially when it comes to emotionally volatile topics. Help them answer truthfully by redirecting their misdirection.

 

The Most Honest Part of Your Body

Former counterintelligence agent Joe Navarro describes body language cues that really work. Careful though. That arm crossing your think is defensiveness is probably somebody just being cold

Communicate with Your Face

Phil and I were at a Stampede pancake breakfast this morning. We had an interesting conversation about how different people use body language and hand gestures. He described how a former boss of his was very good at directing people’s attention to what he wanted them to pay attention to. Much like a magician mis-directing an audience’s attention. For example, he would put his hand inside his jacket pocket and leave it there, and while everybody waited to find out what he was going to pull out of his pocket, they would be focused on him.

We’ve talked about reading faces and body language here before. We can also turn this on its head (excuse the pun) and use it to communicate to our audience. What is your face, hands, and body communicating to others?