Feedback is what speakers do when you’re using them the wrong way, and it has the same effect as fingernails being dragged slowly down a chalk board. When you’re wanting to build to a positive outcome, try something else instead.
We all know the dreaded talk with a client, an agency, or even a friend… when you hear “I’d like to share some feedback with you,” it’s rarely met with excitement. Why is that?
Feedback doesn’t put folks on the same team – it sets them at odds with one another, muting any sense of shared purpose. Feedback insists on a giver and a receiver, a right and a wrong. Feedback is a transaction. Feedback is binary. But life isn’t binary. And, good strategic decisions aren’t either. The best strategies are inclusive in a way that creates win-wins, which in turn build momentum and ease the path to future growth.
Feedback is from a singular, fixed mindset of “I know the answer” instead of “I know how I’m feeling, thinking, and seeing, and I wonder how that might fit into what you’re seeing to arrive at an even better solution than what I could come up with based on my partial – yet very valid – point of view.” Strategy is not fixed. The best strategies are dynamic and open, able to take into account past information, new information, likely possibilities, and every point of view and arrive at a best next step every time, at every turn throughout the unceasing march of change.
Strategy is in fact a synonym for choice, which is what makes it so slippery. When we’re gathered together for a creative review, or even just to talk through a tension point in a project or long-term partnership, we make the best choices when we do so in collaboration with everyone involved.
Collaborative conversation is the new feedback, and it gets to better outcomes that are more unique, more powerful, and more inspiring for everyone. Instead of setting up time for feedback, why not set up time for open dialogue?
THE STARTING POINT
Collaborative conversations don’t look like a pirate ship. Every man or woman for themselves! They start from a sense of shared purpose – what is the destination we’re all aiming for anyway? – and an agreement on the roles and responsibilities of each person involved. Joining in a collaborative conversation means showing up being mindful of your impact and the effort involved by those sharing their work or their opinions. And it means having empathy and trusting the intentions of your team and your clients or partners. If those ingredients aren’t there, then you know what you have to talk through first before you can move on to making the work great.
Guidelines for collaborative conversations:
- Show up open. Do what you need to do to be ready to share and, more importantly to listen and build not from inside your head, but from the moment and what you hear.
- Make sure your comments are constructive and uniquely suited to your contributions to the work.
- Always explain why you’re given the input you’re giving.
- State the problem, and only offer solutions as possibilities, no directives.
- Say the positive stuff out loud. That’s the clay that’s left, and you have to put it on the table to work with. Make a concerted effort to say out loud what is working, don’t leave it in your head.
- Don’t just speak to fill the space. It’s an old technique of researchers and therapists alike: get quiet and someone will speak just because they want to fill the space. With collaboration, speak to move things forward, not just to relieve yourself of the discomfort of quiet.
Is there such a thing as bad collaborative conversations? Yes, there is. They are destructive instead of creative. Here’s what they look like:
TOO LOFTY: If your input is unattainable, unrealistic, and the words you’re saying won’t be actionable.
TOO VAGUE: It’s hard to know what next step will address your thoughts or opinions.
OVERLY PRESCRIPTIVE: There may be myriad ways to solve a problem, and your gut reaction solution may not be the best way or it may create other issues you didn’t foresee. Let everyone be heard, including yourself, before you all come to a unified point of view of what action take next.
ONLY THE NEGATIVE: The baby may go out with the bathwater… saying what’s working lets your team, partners, or client know what they can build from and where they should focus their efforts. Staying only with what’s not working draws too much attention to the wrong stuff.
RULES AND TOOLS OF ENGAGEMENT
Here’s how to engage:
- Say what’s working and why? How is what you have delivering? How has it further the intentions or strategy?
- What concepts are working, but the execution is flawed? What details need to be adjusted?
- What isn’t working – but more importantly, why isn’t it working?
To further prompt you or your team and partners, use this simple framework for hosting a creative, collaborative conversation:
What am I thinking?
I am thinking it’s important to deliver on [humanity]… where do you see that coming into play?
I am thinking that [comfort] is key to the strategy – which pieces of the design did you use to pull that concept through?
What am I feeling?
I feel the [warmth of the reds and oranges]. And I’m wondering about how that works into the choices you’ve made?
I like the feeling of [calm] that is embodied in this design, was that intentional?
What am I sensing?
I see that you focused the concepts on [pattern] to convey [movement]. Tell me more about that?
I like the way this evokes a sense of [touch], how did you think about that in terms of the larger pictures and the other executions?
What do I intuit?
I can’t put my finger on it, but I suspect the client might have some questions around how this [gets expressed in social media]. Have you considered that?
My intuition tells me we may need [more exploration of color]. I’m not sure where that’s coming from – does anyone else have the same intuition?
There’s a reason we don’t just email presentations or text each other our responses. It’s not productive. Forward momentum happens in dialogue, not as a monologue or in the ping pong of digital messages.
Arriving with your opinions, clarity of a shared purpose, and an openness to landing on different solutions than what you can come up with all on your own is the key to showing up ready to achieve something beyond what you could ever do on your own.