Imperfect Feedback

November 2013

I recently bought a new car that I really like. Unfortunately, the radio was defective but the dealer worked to resolve the problem to my satisfaction. So, when I received a detailed customer satisfaction survey by email, I took time to thoughtfully answer all the questions. Imagine my surprise when I got a call from my salesman, asking me what he had done to displease me. This was, apparently, because I had given ratings of 8 and 9 on a 10-point evaluation scale. I assured him that I was happy with his service and that of the dealership. My written comments were complimentary, with a couple of suggestions about how service might be even better. It never occurred to me to give all “10’s” on the evaluation. Perhaps my own personal work around letting go of perfectionism colored my survey responses. (Thanks to Brene Brown for opening my thinking to that possibility.) In my mind, a perfect rating is rarely attained, usually unrealistic, and closes off opportunities for learning and improving.

Perhaps I’m sensitive to this topic because as an executive coach I provide clients regular feedback regarding their professional development goals. My intention is to frame feedback in a way that allows clients to see their actions, hear their words, and clarify their beliefs. Then they can reflect on areas for growth that align with who and what they want to become. My natural tendency is to look first at the good in others and in situations. Clients deserve and expect honest, candid feedback that both encourages and challenges them. I know I’m hitting the mark when I get comments from clients such as “I trust you to be brutally honest with me” and “You help me to see myself in new ways.”

In my work at Georgetown University’s Leadership Coaching Program, I am required to give students frequent feedback in the form of written and verbal evaluations of their coaching. My own learning edge is to become more discerning when I listen to students’ recordings. My approach, similar to that with clients, is to look for and affirm the positive, while illuminating areas for growth. Students are gracious, even eager, about accepting feedback. After all, they come to Georgetown ready to be stretched and challenged. In turn, they provide me with a written evaluation at the end of the course. Their comments are taken seriously, and help me to focus on areas to improve my own professional development as an advisor and coach in the program.

Learning how to give and receive feedback is a continuous journey for me, both professionally and personally. As always, I value your comments and perspectives, whether on this Musing, my coaching, or my philosophy about feedback. Just don’t say anything bad about my new RAV4. Have a wonderful month, and a beautiful Thanksgiving holiday.

Warm regards,

Sharon Keys Seal

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