How To Give Feedback (And Not Be Over Critical)

My company was testing out a new management training class called “Effective Feedback” and the marketing department was asked to be the guinea pig. All marketing leaders were required to take this class and upon completion, provide feedback so Rackspace University could decide if they would implement as an official class.

My class was small, there were only three of us. To start the class, the trainer asked the class how would we respond to someone that asked us the following:

“I’d like to give you some feedback, would you like to hear it?”

I immediately responded with, “yes” while my other two class members said “no.”

The trainer looked at me surprised. I was confused. Why wouldn’t I want feedback?

The trainer went on to say that most people are not open to having someone come tell them what they could be doing better.  That might be the case because they’ve had terrible experiences on how someone has provided them feedback or they received a negative reaction after providing feedback to someone else. So how do you do it? It depends on your relationship with the person, what you expect to get out of it and how you approach it.

Let me explain.

The Relationship

Before you have the right to give anyone feedback, you need to have developed a relationship with that person. By doing this, you will have context behind why this person is doing what they’re doing. It’s unfair to judge someone by only their outputs because you have no clue why the outputs are what they are. What if there were some limitations the person ran into and it’s the reason their output isn’t up to the par you would expect?

Bottom line: Don’t judge the book by it’s cover.

The Outcome

The only reason you should be giving feedback to anyone is because you sincerely care about that person and want them to improve or you want what is best for the organization. Giving feedback should not be given because you want to show how smarter or better you are. It should not be given to belittle the person you’re giving feedback to. And it should not be given because you want something done a certain way without really knowing if your way is in fact better. What is the real value the world will receive if you give feedback? Having trouble figuring it out? Then you’re not ready to give feedback.

Bottom line: This isn’t about you, it’s about them.

The Approach

Now you have a relationship and have a specific reason for giving the feedback. So how do you do it? Here’s the thing – everyone is different and it’s ok. You have to approach it the way that works best for that person and ideally you give it in person or over the phone, not in an electronic format like email or chat. If you’re working with a remote employee, try Skype or a Google Hangout. Things can often be misconstrued in an electronic format and taken the wrong way. And if you do have to do it over email, make sure to follow up with a phone call.

Bottom line: Own it and be respectful.

Remember, the best thing you can do for an employee is give them feedback. You’re doing a disservice to them and to your organization by not providing feedback. It’s how you give the feedback that differentiates it from being over critical or being constructive. By considering these three things I’ve mentioned, you will have your employees asking for more feedback.

And don’t forget to give feedback not only in the bad times, but give it in the good times as well. If you do this, you will be more respected as a leader.

What is MSA?

You don’t know how strong you are until your strength is tested. My friend’s strength is being tested. Her mom is fighting MSA and my friend, Candice, has completely altered her life to be her mother’s caregiver, a fearless caregiver that is.  A cancer survivor herself, Candice has fought her own battle before – underwent surgery, did radiation and is on medication. Unfortunately with MSA, there is no cure or  drugs to treat it. It’s like receiving “the death sentence” as Candice describes it. Here’s a quote from Candice about MSA:

    “Multiple System Atrophy is a devastating neurodegenerative disease that progresses very quickly. For those diagnosed, it is a death sentence. There are no drugs that stop it’s relentless progression. Over the course of 5 to 10 years, victims are robbed of their ability to walk, talk, chew, swallow and breathe. People diagnosed with cancer are offered tools with which to fight … surgery, radiation, chemotherapy. People diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy simply have no such tools to fight with. This disease could strike you or your loved one anytime between age 30 and 60.”

It is often times wrongly diagnosed as Parkinson’s disease. And when I’ve mentioned MSA to others, they assume MS.  I for sure had no clue what it was and have not seen Mrs. Valenta since she has been diagnosed. She has completely lost her independence. I’ve always known Mrs. Valenta as a healthy, active person. Candice is a personal trainer and before her mom was diagnosed, her mom was actually one of her clients. Mrs. Valenta was at a point in her life doing things on her own, enjoying the empty nest. Today, she has a 5 month old grandson that she hasn’t had the opportunity to hold. It’s a devastating situation.

This month is the official MSA awareness month and I want to help her raise awareness. She went in front of the Commissioner’s Court to advocate that Bexar County recognize March as the official awareness month for MSA.

Here’s the video of her speaking in front of Nelson Wolff himself (her speech starts around 2:30).

I could not be more proud of my friend. She has hit every hurdle possible in her young life and she keeps finding a way to overcome them.

Please learn more about Multiple System Atrophy at

Don’t complain about the complainer. Try to help first.

Gossiping, complaining, ranting – call it what you want, but it’s all toxic. It doesn’t make you feel good inside and it doesn’t make others around you feel good. When you try to make a conscious effort to refrain from negative conversations, you may come to realize that it’s actually a lot harder than you think. Our closest friends, colleagues and family members that we talk with everyday might be “that” person and you might be the person that they go to with all their problems. And sometimes you might be the complainer. How do you stop the madness? I think the challenge we are all faced with is finding the strength to address the negativity. So how do we do it?

First, I think we have to understand where the person is coming from. I thought back to some negative conversations I’ve recently been in and tried to think of what was the underlying core reason why this person was so upset that they had an urge to complain about it to someone. If we understood this, we can better prepare ourselves to address it.

Not Happy

When we’re not happy with ourselves, we tend to complain about others. You should know what I’m talking about because we’ve all probably done it at some point in our lives.  I was in a recent conversation where a friend of mine was badgering another person on their choices in life. “I can’t believe they did this,” or “I think that was such a poor choice and I am so disappointed,” and in reality, the decisions made by the person they were complaining about had zero effect on my friend. So why complain about it? Who cares? I started thinking about my friend that was doing the complaining and recall that they’ve been unhappy lately with a variety of events going on in their life. I think when this happens, we feel like we want others to be unhappy too. It’s hard to see others happy when you’re unhappy. (And being heavily involved in the social web doesn’t help much either)

The best thing to do is ask this person how they are doing. Remember specific goals or aspirations they have and ask them about it. They might list reasons on why they haven’t been able to accomplish some things and that’s when you dissect those reasons and help them overcome them.

Lack of Purpose

I was in a meeting with someone (that inspired me to write this post) where they were flustered by the fact that others were not picking up their slack. You could tell it really bothered this person. They asked, “How does this not bother you?” It took me a minute to answer but when I answered, I realized the reason why this person was complaining.

Slackers bother us because we’re not receiving personal fulfillment with the work we’re doing. Think about it for a second. If you went about your day, doing what you’re passionate about, making a difference and having fun – why would you care if someone else were not doing their work? The reason it bothers you is because you don’t find value in the work you’re doing. You feel like if you’re putting time in, someone else better be putting in the same amount of time and energy. For whatever reason, you feel obligated to work on something that you don’t want to work on and you want others to feel the same pain you feel.

So next time someone complains to you about a slacker, ask them this, why do you do what you do? Redirect their attention to self-reflection. If this person can find true fulfillment with what they are doing everyday, they might forget about what others are doing (or not doing). And if they aren’t, then maybe this will start motivating them to get going on something they actually want to do. This is only better for the world out there (can you imagine the level of productivity?)

Making Assumptions

I’ll use myself for this example (not gonna lie – I’ve done my share of complaining) I’ve been in a situation being around someone that really bothered me. I think what bothered me the most about this person is that I felt like every conversation was a competition. They wanted to have the last word and they always wanted to be right (sound familiar?). It was exhausting. For me, since I am not confrontational, I held back my words but just because I did, didn’t mean I held back my thoughts. Thoughts that would carry with me all day long and all night long. My brain was so fixated on all the things ‘I could have said.’ What a waste of time and energy to be thinking about it so much. I took this person’s comments so personally. What I’ve come to realize is that this person was this way with everyone, it was who they were. Over the years I have been able to overcome this negativity by either addressing my thoughts in words in conversations with this person or just taking their words ‘with a grain of salt.’ It really takes mental exercise to remove yourself from the tiny details and view this person from a place much higher than where you’re at. I got here because my husband would always say, ‘ I think you’re thinking too much into it.’ And I totally was.

So next time you hear someone complain about the same person over and over, ask them if they are like that with everyone. Have them monitor how this person is with others and if it’s the same interaction then they’ll know it’s not personal and hopefully will start helping them overcome being so bothered.

These are just a few reasons why I think people complain and ways to redirect the conversation. Of course, some people are just naturally complainers and there’s nothing we can do about it but just avoid it. I know it’s hard when it’s someone close to you but if you’re not receiving positive fulfillment of being in that relationship, why be in it? Aren’t relationships meant to help you be a better person?

One Loss is Not the End of your Journey

I saw this interview of Lolo Jones on the Today Show yesterday morning and was so inspired by her story. We all know Lolo Jones as the track star and if you didn’t watch the Summer Olympic Games of 2012, you missed out on a heart trenching event when Lolo missed a medal, placing 4th in the 100 meter hurdles (her second straight Olympics missing a medal). And a few days prior to her event, a NY Times journalist  pretty much badgered her reputation as an athlete. I didn’t know about this article until this recent interview. She admits that after placing 4th and not receiving a medal, she went into a state of depression. And the article was a blow to her confidence (which she did respond to).

Fast forward 2 years and she is competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics with the bob sled team. She and her teammate Lauryn Williams will be the 9th and 10th athletes to have competed in both Winter and Summer Olympic Games. In her interview with the Today Show, she quotes,

“I know you can’t change the past, but knowing I hit a hurdle, got fourth place, I wouldn’t change it for the fact that I know that it led me here. It led me to meet a great group of female athletes, and we are truly united and bonded and ready to go to Sochi and dominate.”

See the video below.

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Biggest Takeaway

We all have expectations of ourselves and everyone will always have expectations of us. We will fail. How we deal with failure defines who we are; it’s what builds our character. And win or lose, people will continue to criticize us and try to get us down. This is what makes us stronger. Lolo is an inspiration. She represents a true competitor.

I Am Thankful for Family

My family and I were getting together for dinner at a restaurant that we frequently visited. The wait was a bit long but it was no worries because there was a bar and lots of football games on. A busy restaurant has a lot of things going on and since it was cold outside, everyone was waiting inside. As we waited, we began to people watch. There were two young boys that walked in (probably around the age of 10-12 years old) and they stopped inside looking around. You could tell they were looking for someone. Then they said, wait there she is and they ran up to a waitress and they said “Mom! Sister cut her knee and it’s bleeding bad!” and the mom replied “Where is the babysitter? How bad is it bleeding?” and the boys went on to say that they didn’t know where the sitter was and that yes the knee was bleeding bad. The waitress asked, “Well, I am very busy right now and cannot just leave my job. Do you think it’s an emergency?”

It’s moments like these that puts things into perspective. This mom was torn between working her waitress job or attending to her children. The job was what provided food and shelter for her family but left her feeling guilty for not attending to her children’s needs at that very moment. What seems so simple from the outside was probably incredibly stressful for this poor waitress.

I tried to think what I would do if I was in that situation. And you know what? I would call my husband, my mom, my in-laws in that order. And even though, I thank the dear Lord for these people in my lives, it’s still easy to take them for granted. I lean on my family so much for anything and everything and know that they will be there in a moment’s notice.

When we had to take my daughter to the ER on Christmas at 2am, I called my parents and they were there in minutes.
Every Wednesday afternoon when my son gets out of Parents Day Out at 3:30pm, my father-in-law picks him up and watches him until we got off of work.
My husband is there by my side every single day being an available daddy to our kids.

I know it sounds like this should be the norm but it isn’t. There are too many parents out there doing it on their own, no spouse, no extended family to help. And so when I look back at 2013, I am thankful that I have these people in my lives that are there to support me so I can be a better parent to my kids.

So cheers to my family! Love y’all!

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