Welcome to Episode 32 of Navigating the Fustercluck—a podcast full of bite-sized insights to help you navigate the unpredictable world of creativity & marketing.

My name is Wegs, like eggs with a W, joining you from Deaf Mule Studios in Dallas, where we’re here to talk about feedback. Tricky thing, feedback. The primary feedback on feedback is that nobody knows how the hell to give it. So let’s look into this a little bit.

And if you have feedback on this episode on feedback, reach out to me directly at wegs24x7@gmail.com.

Before we start in on tactics, let’s get a little humancentric here. What are the emotional issues that make feedback such a sensitive issue with so many people?

A Sense of Belonging

People want to belong to something bigger than themselves. That need may be fulfilled by a sense of nationalism, religion, a sports team or even a business. That sense of belonging is at the core of corporate cultures. People want to know what are the ideas and values that make us us. And yes, as individualistic as we may be, we’re social creatures, we’re all looking for our us.

The Problem with Criticism

Criticism, at a very deep level, feels like a threat, no matter how much we know, rationally, that we need it. And, of course, to the person delivering the criticism, it feels like they are delivering a message that might actually endanger another human by pushing them out of the group (“but they might quit!” is a common objection when people are asked to be more direct in their criticism).

A sense of belonging is important. But that shouldn’t be an excuse for allowing groupthink. There has to be some diversity in opinion or we’ll never change. Never improve. Neither as individuals or as a company.

That said, there very different ways of looking at feedback. Basically…

Two Schools of Thought

#1 Radical Candor

Radical candor or radical transparency says that we all need to be as authentic as possible and tell it like it is. At least how it is in our minds. And if you can’t take my candor then you’ve got the problem.

It’s meant to develop thick skin and cut down on any time-consuming pussyfooting around.

Take Netflix for example. They have an annual Feedback Day where anyone can send feedback to whomever they choose. Their format? Start/Stop/Continue.

Each person tells a colleague one thing they should start doing, one thing they should stop doing, and one thing they’re doing really well and should keep doing.

Brutal vs Honest

So, while radical candor may ruffle a few feathers and heighten some insecurities, the trade-off of honesty is seen as being worth it. 

But to paraphrase brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor, We’re not thinking creatures who feel, we’re feeling creatures who think. Can most of us endure radical candor? Does it matter? Not according to Ray Dalio’s book, Principles.

Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater. They handle the money of people like Bill Gates. Bridgewater has a culture of tremendous achievement, combined with a determined effort to see, and deal with, the truth of things. The first chapter under “Life Principles” is “Embrace Reality and Deal With It”.

But even Dalio acknowledges that “Radical Transparency” takes its toll: “While [people’s] “upper-level you’s understand the benefits of it, their “lower-level yous” tend to react with a flight-or-fight response. Adapting typically takes about eighteen months, though it varies from individual to individual, and there are those who never successfully adapt to it. And he’s ok with that. Ray even has a concept to offset some of the potential harshnesses of Radical Candor. It’s called…

Caring Personally

Caring personally acknowledges that feedback can hurt. But it’s willing to trade off short-term pain for long-term gain. It’s kind of a tough-love approach. One that has inspired Netflix to develop a Keeper Test.

Keeper Test

The Keeper Test breaks down like this: Which of my people, if they told me they were leaving in two months for a similar job at a peer company, would I fight to keep at Netflix?” Those people who don’t make this cut should get moved aside: “…should get a generous severance now, so we can open a slot to try to find a star for that role.

Is that modern efficiency? Or inhumane asshattery? Can companies not as hot & sexy get away with such an approach. Is it sustainable? Ethical? Send your opinions to wegs24x7@gmail.com.

Now I mentioned that there are two schools of thought on this. And they are definitely 2 competing schools. The second way of looking at feedback says that…

Feedback Doesn’t Work

According to a recent Harvard Business Review Article, Why Feedback Fails, feedback fails because…

You Can’t Correct a Person to Excellence

And here are a few reasons why…

We Aren’t Reliable Raters

We can’t help ourselves! We look at people through the filter of ourselves. We naturally value what we do more than the strengths of others. Even if someone’s method is successful, we wish that they did our way. It’s called the Idiosyncratic Rating Effect and accounts for half of how we view others. It’s systematic. And we’re not even aware of all this distortion.

We Don’t Learn This Way

According to the article, Focusing people on their shortcomings or gaps doesn’t enable learning. It impairs it. 

People don’t learn through fear. And even low-level feedback ignites a reptilian fight or flight response. So. What do people respond to?

Yes, That!

Yep, when you see something good tell people, Yes, that!

They’ll gradually focus on these things and grow into their potential.

Perhaps this is an unofficial endorsement of strengths-based leadership.

And that a focus on outcomes is more important than dictating a one-size-fits-all process. People learn their way and need a base level of safety and comfort to do so.

When sculptors do their work, they don’t remove the flaws and create art. No, excellence is not the opposite of failure. Excellence is the undeniable evidence of talent. It’s not eliminating the negative, it’s accentuating the positive. At least that’s the philosophy of this school of thought.

Time to Take a Short Breather… (EXHALE.)

…We’re here at Deaf Mule Studios to remind everyone that this is Navigating the Fustercluck. And I’m your host, Wegs. Before we close out, get your opinion.

Radical Candor or Positive Reinforcement? Which way works for you? Or is it both? Obviously, if someone is doing something really messed up, we have to step in and do something before someone gets hurt or the organization becomes liable. But beyond that, when it comes to long-term success, what’s your philosophy?

Well, that about wraps up our 32nd episode of Navigating the Fustercluck. 

Here from Deaf Mule Studios, I’m your host, Wegs, like eggs with a W, and thanks again for listening in. Until next time, please feel free to reach out to me personally at wegs24x7@gmail.com or NavigatingTheFustercluck.com, where you can find transcripts to this episode and every other of our 31 efforts. Finally, remember, we’re all in this together. So thanks for hanging in there. Here’s to you. Here’s to the future.