Many years ago I was asked to evaluate a speech for a Toastmasters event where the speaker was preparing for the regional championship. Wining at this level meant he would go onto to the international level. It was a big stepping stone. The speaker asked us to do him a favor before he got started. What he said caught my attention and has stuck with me all these years.
He said and I quote… “Only tell me about the bad stuff“
He gave a little post-amble after that. Where he said something to the effect of “I don’t need to be puffed up with the good stuff. I absolutely will appreciate that afterwards, but I need to hear the bad stuff first so that I can improve.”
I need to hear the bad stuff so that I can improve
That’s easy to say and a lot harder to do.
It also runs counter to what Marcus Buckingham says in Now, Discover Your Strengths from 2001 (and still worth a read) – where the research he did with The Gallup organization showed that it was more effective to focus on your strengths. And, the implication was to hire and job things out to compensate for your weaknesses.
So, how is “Only tell me about the bad stuff” different from “Focus on Your Strengths?” I believe this is a viable strategy on the grand scheme of things. And, in this particular situation the speaker didn’t want to focus on his strengths and he specifically wanted to know where the audience felt he had fallen flat.
To be honest… it was kinda hard to do. Especially within the Toastmasters context where we are taught to encourage speakers.
Tell me about my flaws
It takes a strong person to ask that question and an even stronger person to listen (intently and silently) to the brutally candid responses that may come back.
- Can you stand it?
- Will you ask the question?
- Do you ask the question?
It is really tough to not defend yourself when somebody starts slinging arrows in your direction. Even when you ask for it… it can be tough.
My recommendation is to be open and ask that question and expect and encourage brutal honesty.
Some History: A mentor I worked with at Microsoft used that the terms “brutal honesty“ to seek that kind of feedback. I have to say I don’t always seek that brutally honest feedback. And that’s on me. Perhaps I should do it a little bit more. If you do so on a regular basis drop a note in the comments and tell us how it works for you.
From this mentor and with this mentor… We all asked for and expected the truth and we were ready to hear the Brutally Honest feedback.
But are we really prepared for that truth when it comes right back at us?
Not everyone is. Even when they say they are. So, here are a few ways to think about providing feedback… even when the person says Only tell me about the bad stuff.
Tips for giving feedback:
Remember it’s not about the person it’s about the presentation, the material, the content.
If there is something of a more personal nature that needs to be addressed remember PIP and CIP.
- PIP means Praise in Public
- CIP means Criticize in Private
As noted in the case of the Toastmasters speaker he specifically asked us to criticize him in public. And, we obliged.
Pro Tip: Unless the person specifically asks for criticism in a public forum you should plan on giving it in private.
It doesn’t necessarily work in all situations. However, as a best practice and as a way to improve in your career and grow your skills I encourage you to take that difficult step and allow someone to give you brutally candid feedback.
As for me, I give you permission to tell me all the bad stuff.
Go ahead! Tell me. I can take it.
I hope you consider asking for it too. It just might change your life and the way to see things.