Le Podcast

How (not) to provide feedback – John Poelstra

In this episode of Le Podcast, I had the great pleasure of having John Poelstra to discuss a very personal experience about providing feedback.

John has a great show. I have been on the show twice. The first time to discuss Changing Your Team From The Inside. The second with Michael Doyle to discuss how to build and lead effective remote teams.

The highlights of the episode are:

  • the difference between the content of the feedback and how it is delivered
  • the place of the ego in the feedback process
  • who is responsible for our experiences
  • how to deal with expectations or needs
  • how the responsibilities are on both ends
  • the dance between people is the relationship
  • how you show up makes a big difference
  • polarization, win/lose mentality makes it worse

Recommended book in the episode:


I have some feedback

The fifth chapter of Changing Your Team From The Inside is titled: Care Personally. Why that? Because, at the time I was reviewing the book to prepare its first publication, I read Radical Candor a book by Kim Scott.

I changed the quote starting the chapter with this one from Kim Scott:

“The meaning of Radical Candor is care personally, challenge directly, and when you do both at the same time, that’s good.”

You can’t give any valuable feedback to someone you don’t care about. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult, to receive feedback and use them effectively, when they come from people with whom you are not connected enough.

The March-April 2019 issue of the Harvard Business Review displays a catchy title on its cover: Why Feedback Fails.

The article, The Feedback Fallacy, explains that focusing people on their shortcomings doesn’t enable learning; it impairs it.

Instead, the authors, Marcus Buckingham, and Ashley Goodall recommend to:

Look for outcomes.
Excellence is an outcome. When you see a colleague do something excellent, stop her or him and say it.

Replay your instinctive reactions.
Say it by expressing your personal reactions to what just happened. You are not trying to fix them, you make them realize the impact of what they just did.

Never lose sight of your highest-priority interrupt.
Looking for excellence should be your highest-priority interrupt. Mine is naturally precisely the opposite. I can see instantly what is not going well… Some personal work to catch me before reacting too fast.

Explore the present, past, and future.
If colleagues come to you with a problem, put them in the right mindset by having them state three things that are working well for them now.
Then explore the past: “When you had a problem like this in the past, what did you do that worked?”
Finally, turn to the future: “What do you already know you need to do? What do you already know works in this situation?”

I realized when I read the article, that the most efficient feedback I gave in the past is in fact following exactly that pattern. As I am reviewing the book for the second edition right now, I added to my list to review the chapter to take into account those findings.

What are your thoughts about this?

As usual, comments, email, Linkedin, Twitter, or even phone, your preferred means of communication is perfect for me.




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Care Personally

Care personally and challenge directly. That is how Kim Scott defines Radical Candor. At the end of November, I decided that I will offer her book to some of my colleagues.

A book is an opportunity for learning through discussions with others. I already discussed the advantage of a book discussion club, and by offering a book, I wish to have those conversations, with each person. And yes, I am also planning a book discussion club.

When you give a book, some conversation could start surprisingly fast, like last year when I gave “Joy” to colleagues, and one of them told me immediately: “Is there a message? Do you think I make my employees unhappy?”. This conversation took me by surprise and I probably just mumbled meaningless words to try to escape it.

Sometimes it seems that the conversation will never start. So either, you can forget about it, or you can push to have it. Sometimes it is just that people don’t read, don’t read business books, have other things on their reading list, and that’s ok.

With Radical Candor, I had the first conversations quite rapidly. The first one was about the 2 x 2 matrix used in the book. You are up on the vertical ax of the matrix when you care personally. You are on the right of the horizontal ax of the matrix when you challenge directly.

The conversation evolved around the principles described by Dale Carnegie and how they fit the matrix. (in “How to win friends and influence people,” his book first published in 1936, and still reedited today.)

I will take two examples:

  • Become genuinely interested in other people
  • Give honest and sincere appreciation

Become genuinely interested in other people, is, of course, an excellent way to demonstrate that you care personally. And, as you can see in the matrix, if you are doing it without challenging people directly, you will fall in the “ruinous empathy” quadrant.

Give honest and sincere appreciation, is, this time, more tricky. If I consider that I will only speak about the positive behaviors that I can see in other people, I will fall in the bottom left quadrant “manipulative insincerity”. If I don’t care personally, and I give honest feedback, I will fall into the “obnoxious aggression” quadrant. If I care personally and that I am honest, this time I can act in the upper right quadrant.

The way you will give feedback is of course key to the success of your message. Kim Scott explain this point with reference to what Ben Horowitz called the shit sandwich in “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” another book that I enjoyed. The shit sandwich is his way to qualify a classic way to give feedback: start with complimenting, then pass the difficult message, and finally value the strengths of people. The problem with the approach is that experienced people will see you coming and each time that you will start with a compliment, they will wait for the difficult feedback.

The point is that if you care personally for people, you will develop a relationship that enables to give and to receive honest feedback without the need to give a not so nice sandwich.

Once, I was in the audience at a conference, and one of my colleagues was giving a talk. The guy is excellent, I love his way of thinking, he can present an appealing overall vision and go deep to the right level of details when it’s appropriate. The talk was ok, and I was frustrated. Why? Because he made basic public speaking mistakes that he could have easily avoided. I wait that the long line of people wanted to thank him, and to talk with him vanished, and I told him: “Great work Steve! I have some feedback, do you want them now or later?”.
Steve: “Now would be fine.”
Me: “Do you want them direct, or do you want me to dress them up a little bit?”
Steve: “I am a big boy, go for direct.”
At this stage, I would have gone for direct anyway, and I guess you understood that I cared enough for that.

I will relate another conversation I had about the book in a future article about Rock Stars and Super Stars.