Fable Friday: “Thanks for the Feedback” tips

A friend of mine used to be a wine merchant, or wholesaler, selling to local distributors. He was good at it and made a ton of money.  He told me this story about developing young talent in the sales business.

“I would take a new guy on a call with me and let him handle most of the call.  Soon as we left the customer’s office and had driven out of sight, we’d pull over for some ‘curbside coaching,’ while the call was still fresh in our minds.

These guys were eager to learn because the income opportunities were so great, so I didn’t have to sugar coat anything.  They wanted to know exactly what to do to get better. Giving them feedback was easy.”

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedThere’s a simple rule to remember here:  the more desire the performer has, the more direct you can be with your feedback. Think of Olympic performers, college scholarship athletes and the like.  You don’t require a carefully facilitated conversation.

But this is not the case in most work and personal situations, in which giving and receiving feedback are such critical and delicate skills.

So I’m excited to see that Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen, the Harvard Law school lecturers who gave us the outstanding book, “Difficult Conversations,” a must-read for any negotiator, have come out with “Thanks for the Feedback,” a book directed not at those who give feedback, but on those of us who receive it.

I’m not going to steal or even paraphrase any of their fine work here, as I strongly recommend you read this book. But I do want to add to the discussion with some ideas I’ve written about here in different contexts, one of them being the way in which we handle customer objections.

Initially, it’s good practice to respond to feedback you have been given about your performance in work or in life the same way you should do so when you hear a customer object to your sales presentation.  Here are three useful communication tips:

1)       Pause before you say anything at all.  There are numerous benefits in taking your time before responding.  It shows your counterpart that you are not being defensive, that you are taking the comments seriously, that you are thinking about what to say next, and it allows the speaker to keep talking, all very desirable outcomes. Just count, “A thousand one, a thousand two…” before responding.

2)      Say “Thank you,” just as in the title of the book. No matter if you’re boiling with rage, smile and offer a pleasant thank you, just as if someone has asked, “How are the kids?”  Say, “Thank you for your thoughts. I appreciate your concerns and would like to talk further about these issues.”  Again, this mitigates any negative emotion in the conversation.  These words signal that you are willing to share and solve a problem, not be defensive or argumentative.

3)      Make a transition statement to continue the conversation that does not include these three words:  but, however, or nevertheless.  Imagine I say to you, “You did a great job on that call. I’m really happy with it, but there are a couple of things you could have done better.”  Now quick, what was the power word for you in that feedback? It was the word “but” which tells you I just discounted your good job.  Make sure you don’t use these words to begin your response.

Order this book today, and see how small changes to your conversational style will have a huge impact on how you work with others and how you…

Think Like Your Customer

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About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

2 Responses to Fable Friday: “Thanks for the Feedback” tips

  1. Pete Daugherty says:

    Gregory, Using this one today at TCF – a good tool to remind our employees on both delivery and acceptance of feedback. We spend a lot of time talking about how to deliver feedback, we should be spending similar time on how to receive it.

    • Agreed Pete. So much emotion surrounds any kind of feedback. I thought the authors took an interesting position in stating that we all need to learn how to accept feedback more graciously and with an attempt at understanding and changing behavior. Thanks for the feedback! Gregory

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