The art of feedback – why we should serve more than a “praise” sandwich

A couple of days ago, my good friend and classmate Kendalle Harrell sent me a link  to the latest research article on Performance Feedback… I know what you’re thinking…quite a sexy topic for an Organizational Psychology grad student.

Yes, gosh darnit, it is! We’ve all been given feedback – welcome or unwelcome, formal or informal, yearly or monthly.

Performance feedback is an art. So let’s draw some connections to the art of Improvisation, shall we?

Peter Sims gets us thinking about how, and compares this art to the artsiest folk of all, Pixar animators.

  1. Make it personal – no cookie cutter feedback here. Not everyone likes a praise sandwich, in fact, some people will throw away what’s inside and just focus on the praise, or visa-versa. Strong performance feedback has…
  2. A narrative – a journey, a co-created one at that… between the feedback giver and receiver. Decide on a vision that you can co-create. To help you write this narrative focus on…
  3. Agreement – what can the feedback receiver agree to (and come up with themselves) to improve? Utilize the power of give and take (Thanks, Adam Grant!).
  4. Be specific – focus on specific behaviors, action items, and examples.

Pixar utilizes “plussing” as a developmental tool (you may call this “Yes, And…as you wish).

“The point, he said, is to “build and improve on ideas without using judgmental language.

Here’s an example he offers in his book. An animator working on “Toy Story 3” shares her rough sketches and ideas with the director. “Instead of criticizing the sketch or saying ‘no,’ the director will build on the starting point by saying something like, ‘I like Woody’s eyes, and what if his eyes rolled left?”

Using words like “and” or “what if,” rather than “but” is a way to offer suggestions and allow for the creative juices to flow without fear, Mr. Sims said.”

Performance feedback is a muscle that can be developed with practice.  I’d argue that many of us inherently know this already, but don’t always put it into practice. If we want to improve, we can think about it as we would our own performance feedback. Focus on the specific behaviors we can improve on tomorrow, and who can help keep us accountable as we learn and grow?

What’s the drill – June 26: “Yes, and” instead of a “yes man”

What’s the drill for June 26th seeks to clear up a misconception about the phrase, “yes, and”.

When I first started improvising, I tried to apply the phrase, “yes, and” everywhere off-stage.

I can’t say no, I thought. I must “yes, and” everything. It pushed me to take more risks, to increase my learning and experiences and to learn more about myself. But it also made me feel a bit off-center and frankly…tired.

As one of my most favorite Improvisers and mentors likes to say, “saying YES, AND” to everything results in a messy life.

Instead, we as leaders, employees, friends, and people can see the phrase, “yes, and” as a mindset that allows us to more confidently trust our instincts and gut reactions. It allows us to withhold judgement, to be more accepting, open, patient, appreciative, collaborative, and even kinder.

We can practice the “yes, and” mindset to turn it into a habit – where we say yes to the things and ideas that fuel and inspire us, and become more accepting and supportive of the things that don’t. You get to choose.



Greeting life with a big “Yes, and”

The cardinal rule of Improvisation is to say, “Yes, and” – to accept and add-on to whatever is happening in front of you on stage.

Saying “Yes, and” instead of other things, such as “heck no”, or “you’ve got to be kidding me”, or perhaps just stunned silence is a way to keep us moving forward when we have no idea where the scene will go.

Saying “Yes, and” on stage becomes habitual, if you practice it enough.

But, saying, “Yes, and” off the stage, sometimes in life’s most trying moments can take a stronger set of muscles and mindset.

Comedian and Actress Jane Lynch delivered a powerful speech on this very topic to the Smith College class of 2012 – and the idea, the habit of greeting life with a big “Yes, And” is truly a reminder that never gets old.

Lately I’ve noticed my “Yes, and” muscle weakening a bit.

If they say Improv is the creative equivalent of jumping off a cliff, then leaving your job to pursue your passion is the professional equivalent. Both jumps have so many similarities, and this Improvisers skill-set is what I rely on to navigate the unknown and to teach others to do the same.

When you notice your “Yes, and” muscle weakening it may be because what’s happening in front of you doesn’t look or feel exactly the way you imagined it.

It’s easy to say “Yes, and” when you’re totally on-board with the scene.  But when you’re in a scene that’s not unfolding the way you want it to — remember you always have a choice. I advocate the choice to step up to the experience, face the fear, and accept what’s in front of you, even what you can’t control, with a big “yes, and”. It doesn’t mean we have to like our circumstances – but it does mean we have to keep moving forward and do something productive with it.

Putting the principles of Improvisation into action in real life, especially when the stage we’re on feels most vulnerable (entrepreneurship, new experiences, cliff-jumping) is where the opportunity for growth really lies.

True happiness comes from being less attached to the outcome, and more in tune with the present, the journey unfolding right in front of us….and it starts by greeting life with a big “Yes, and”.

“Yes” is the new normal – via Seth Godin

Seth’s Blog: The coalition of No.

The coalition of No

“It’s easy to join.

There are a million reasons to say no, but few reasons to stand up and say yes.

No requires just one objection, one defensible reason to avoid change. No has many allies–anyone who fears the future or stands to benefit from the status quo. And no is easy to say, because you actually don’t even need a reason.

No is an easy way to grab power, because with yes comes responsibility, but no is the easy way to block action, to exert the privilege of your position to slow things down.

No comes from fear and greed and, most of all, a shortage of openness and attention. You don’t have to pay attention or do the math or role play the outcomes in order to join the coalition that would rather things stay as they are (because they’ve chosen not to do the hard work of imagining how they might be).

And yet the coalition of No keeps losing. We live in a world of yes, where possibility and innovation and the willingness to care often triumph over the masses that would rather it all just quieted down and went back to normal.

Yes is the new normal. And just in time.”

Two words that kill innovation and creativity

Every moment and in every interaction we are capable of choosing our “performances” and how we act, behave, and respond in a given situation.

Often our responses are habitual, instinctive, and we aren’t even aware of the mindset that’s ingrained in us or our companies. 

It’s possible these two little words are killing the innovation and creativity of your team:

“Yes, But”. 

Reflect on how you and your company respond to new or untested ideas. Do you “but” ideas to death? It might look like this:

“Yes, but it won’t work”

“Yes, but we don’t have the time”

“Yes, but we tried something similar before and it didn’t work”

In doing so, are you rejecting innovation and creativity?

I’m not advocating a company full of just “yes” men. Instead, we can choose a performance that involves less judgement, more open-mindedness, acceptance of others ideas, and a willingness to build on ideas instead of rejecting them.

Think about all of the performance choices you have every day. How can your performance increase and not block the flow of ideas, open communication and an open mind.

“But….” , just give it a try!