Many years ago I was asked to rate a speech for a Toastmasters event where the speaker was preparing for the regional championship. Winning at that level meant that he would move to the international level. It was a great stepping stone. The announcer asked us to do him a favor before he started. What he said caught my attention and has stayed with me over the years.
He said and I quote … “Just tell me about the bad things“
Then he gave a little post-amble. Where he said something about the effect, “I don’t have to be puffed up with the good things. I’ll absolutely appreciate that later, but I have to hear the bad things first so I can improve.”
I have to hear the bad things so that I can improve
That’s easy to say and a lot harder to do.
It also runs counter to what Marcus Buckingham says in Discover your strengths now from 2001 (and still worth a read) – where research he’s done with the Gallup organization has shown that focusing on your strengths is more effective. And the consequence was to stop and get things done to make up for your weaknesses.
So how is “Just tell me about the bad things. ” other than “Are you focusing on your strengths?” I believe this is a viable strategy for the big scheme of things. And in this particular situation the speaker didn’t want to focus on his strengths and he specifically wanted to know where the audience felt they had fallen flat.
To be honest … it was pretty hard to do. Especially in the context of Toastmasters, where we are taught to encourage speakers.
Tell me about my mistakes
It takes a strong person to ask this question and an even stronger person to listen (attentively and quietly) to the brutally sincere answers that may come back.
- Can you take it
- Will you ask the question
- Are you asking the question?
It’s really hard not to defend yourself when someone starts hurling arrows in your direction. Even if you ask about it … it can be difficult.
My recommendation is to be open and ask this question and expect and encourage brutal honesty.
Some story: A mentor I worked with at Microsoft used the terms “brutal honesty“To get that kind of feedback. I have to say, I don’t always look for this brutally honest feedback. And that’s up to me. Maybe I should do it a little more. If you do this regularly, please write a note in the comments and let us know how it works for you.
From this mentor and with this mentor … We have all asked and awaited the truth and were ready to hear the brutally honest feedback.
But are we really prepared for this truth when it comes straight back to us?
Not everyone is. Even if they say they are. Here are some ways to start thinking about providing feedback … even if the person says so Just tell me about the bad things.
Tips for feedback:
Remember, it’s not about the person but the presentation, the material, the content.
If there is something more personal that needs to be addressed, think of PIP and CIP.
- PIP means public praise
- CIP means “criticize privately”
As mentioned in the case of the Toastmasters spokesman, he specifically asked us to criticize him publicly. And we have agreed.
Pro tip: Unless the person specifically asks for criticism in a public forum, plan to do so privately.
It doesn’t necessarily work in all situations. However, as a best practice and as a way to improve your career and expand your skills, I encourage you to take this difficult step and get someone to give you brutally open feedback.
I give you permission to tell me all the bad things.
Go straight ahead! Tell me. I can take that.
I hope you consider asking about it too. It could change your life and the way you see things.