The worst feedback before pitching in Slush
A start-up CEO is sobbing in the ladies room behind the stage. “I’m feeling so confused!” she cries. “I cannot do this, I can’t go on stage.” Her voice is trembling and her mascara is running down on her cheeks. “My pitch is not ready, I don’t know now whether I should put the intro-video in or not. I mean, we decided to take it out, but perhaps it should be there. What if they don’t get this without it? I don’t know what to do! I’ll make a fool out of myself and my company… I don’t want to do this. We’ll find the money some other way- perhaps pitching is not my thing.”
It’s my turn to get confused. This amazing young start-up CEO has been working on her pitch already months and we have been crystallising the story and the slides till they shine. Now 15 min before going on stage she is literally crumbling.
“Hey.” I say with a soft quiet voice. ”You nailed this pitch already days ago. You were absolutely on top of everything - and stayed under 3 min, every time! You felt so proud of yourself. Something obviously changed your mind. What happened?”
What had happened was Feedback that had gone terribly wrong.
We had been coaching EdTech startups for months to build and polish their pitches for a Slush side-event. These young teams had been working hard learning conscious communication methods and applying them into their pitches to make them memorable and impactful. And they were good, no, they were excellent. Now, just 15 min before stepping into the spotlights my coachee had been asked to do a final run of her pitch for a familiar investor, who then decided to give her feedback. And now the hell was loose.
Most likely the investor had nothing but good intentions but suggesting her to add a 30sec intro-video into a 3 min pitch 15min before the countdown was not realistic. What she needed was not advice, not even an opinion but just some kind and encouraging words to boost her confidence.
How to get the Best out of Feedback Instead of Creating Conflicts and Distress?
Giving and receiving feedback often leads to tensions and discomfort. People so easily feel criticised and get defensive. Feedback, however, is necessary to improve and grow, but only when done wisely.
These 4 blog posts give checklists to help supervisors, leaders and HR managers to simplify and structure their current way of working with feedback. The 5 rules to receive feedback, the 5 rules to give feedback and the 5 topics of reflection are intended to help you get the most out of feedback and turn insights into actionable improvements. If you rather watch a video than read this text about Feedback & Reflection, click this link.
5 Rules of Receiving Feedback
Each of the 5 rules has two faces: the receiving and the giving side. We’ll go through the receiving side in this article and the giving side in Part 3.
Rule 1 is about Psychological Safety
Rule 2 is about Timing
Rule 3 is about Needs
Rule 4 is about Usefulness
Rule 5 is about Ego & Conflicts
Because there are so many ways to interpret the idea of feedback, it’s more effective for leaders and managers to make feedback positive and constructive with a few rules. Let’s start with the 5 rules of receiving feedback, as it is the most tricky. Research on the psychology of feedback points towards the importance of feedback being useful when it is asked for. Because there are so many ways to interpret the idea of Feedback, it’s more effective for us to make feedback positive and constructive with a few rules. Research points towards the importance of feedback being useful when it is asked for. Click To Tweet
Rule 1: Reflect Before Asking for Feedback
If you love your tea or coffee moments, you’ll like this rule. Before asking, give yourself permission to find a quiet place to translate your need for feedback into a clear and pragmatic set of questions. Don’t ask for feedback until you’ve actually reflected on what you need feedback on. Think about how to formulate it as a question. Write on a paper your answer to the question: “What feedback am I able and willing to receive?” In the case above, my coachee should have paused to think, if only for a second, about this very same question.
Rule 2: Don’t Ask if You are not Ready
When you’ve had a bad day and your colleague offers you feedback, even the smallest constructive criticism is likely to be hard for you to receive. So don’t ask if you’re not ready. Make sure that you are using enough Philautia (self-compassion) by considering if you have the energy and mental space to hear what others have to say. It’s ok to say no – or later, if it’s not the right time for you, and to suggest postponing the feedback to later when you have more bandwidth to receive it as a gift.
After a moment of self-awareness my coachee might have realised that perhaps it is not the best time for her to receive feedback just minutes before her big performance.
Rule 3: Clarify the Type of Feedback
Based on the GreenBlueRed™ Framework - Are you looking for Advice, Opinion or Praise? Make sure that as a receiver you first clarify the type of feedback you want. What do you need from this feedback? It’s a good idea to frame the feedback beforehand by informing the other of what you’re trying to achieve.
If you want advice on how to fix problems, you might ask: “I have a problem to fix. Could you give me some advice on how to solve it?” Notice that advice assumes that you are choosing people who have enough expertise to give you constructive advice-feedback. Beware of asking the wrong people.
If you need opinions, to make decisions, solve problems or design in co-creatively, say: “I need your opinion. Could you tell me what you think about…” Remember that their opinions are simply a reflection of their values, beliefs and experience.
In this case the CEO chose to receive feedback but forgot to mention what kind of feedback she is willing to hear. Voicing her needs: “I’m feeling a bit nervous so if I pitch to you, would you focus only the positives and perhaps give me the builds afterwards so I can improve my pitch for the next time?”
It’s ok to say: “Right now I need uplifting and encouragement. Honestly I cannot take any criticism before the pitch. Could you give me only positive feedback?”
Rule 4: Ask for Specific Feedback
If our intention is to fix creative problems of tackle challenges we often just say: “Could you give me some feedback?” Designers who understand how important it is to ask for specific feedback would ask instead: “How might we align these graphics with our guidelines?” This gives you clearer and actionable feedback. The more you specify what you need, the more useful the feedback is.
My coachee could have been even more specific with her request - positive feedback is still very wide. It can be anything from “you look good” to “your pace and tone of voice seems professional”.
Rule 5: Don’t Take it Personally
The next time your colleague storms into a meeting angrily for example, giving everybody a hard time with feedback in the form of complaints of personal criticisms, try not to take it personally. If you’ve studied non-violent communication, you’ll know that people often project their feelings onto others. A feeling cannot be solved, simply experienced. That’s why it’s often enough to acknowledge the negative feeling with some green techniques such as #mirroring. The challenge is to keep a healthy distance from your own ego being triggered into emotional turmoil and offer to work as a team to fix any emerging problems. It’s often more constructive to assume that they are just trying their best, but need to voice their frustrations.
In the case above: even if this lovely CEO that I was coaching had done all the steps before, the investor might have still chosen to disrespect her wishes and give an unwanted opinion or advice. Then it’s up to her to be able to distance herself from her ego, trust herself and her decisions. After all, everybody opinions, but they don’t always serve you.How to get the Best out of Feedback Instead of Creating Conflicts and Distress? Click To Tweet
With these simple rules, receiving feedback becomes smoother and easier. You are able to use the feedback for the benefit of yourself and your organisation. In Part 3, we’ll focus on the 5 rules to give feedback.
Green Elephant empowers the next generation of conscious leaders to become more influential by upgrading their capacity to have meaningful and crucial conversations. Contact Anu on the link below for support, expertise and conscious communication audits.