So much is spoken about (and rightly so) coaching/feedback as an essential ingredient to making rapid progress, lifting morale and constantly enhancing potential(at work or play). However, the aspect of truly transferring the “chi” (so to say) to exactly deliver the learning/input to the recipient in a way that it is received happily and internalized, is no meaner an act than a tight rope walk over a chasm. We have several examples of great Masters of yore to the great Masters of Disney (like Shifu) who have mastered the art of coaching and given the right disciple, they could craft the greatest of warriors filled with pure awesomeness out of them!
In the typical modern day work life however, learning (needs to) happen(s) all the time and on the run(job). Although there are specific individuals (usually the specialists, SMEs, managers) that assume the role of the coach(es) time and again, usually the element of feedback/coaching happens in spurts from all directions and has the potential of transforming individuals/teams if done well, day by day. If only it was that simple! Let us look at some cases before proceeding further to examine the elements of feedback from a “receiver’s” perspective.
Case 1 (Trust): PO grew up with a burning desire to learn kungfu and trusted Shifu to be the greatest teacher in all of China. PO says to Shifu, “…if anyone could change me, could make me… not me, it was you! The greatest kung fu teacher in all of China!”
Case 2 (empathy): Although faced with a near impossible challenge, the team lagaan, gets together to follow one of their co-villager as their leader and trains hard to fight for their destiny. Bhuvan (the village team’s captain) gets them to empathize with the common goal and empathizes with each one of them in leveraging their individual strengths to make a strong team.
Case 3 (Connect): Aliens from the Moron mountain invade the Looney Tunes and get into a basket ball challenge in order to conquer them. No matter how much Michael (Jordan who plays for the Loonies on request from bugs bunny) convinces his team at break time (when they get hammered by the giant aliens in the first quarter), they just couldn’t get to trust him. “Michael doesn’t understand us, we can’t beat these aliens”, they think. It takes bugs bunny’s clever trick to make Jordan’s special drink that could connect with the team and give them the much needed magical boost to fight back.
(Movies offer serious inspiration!)
Although I picked up some extreme examples to make the point in a lighter vein, the elements of Connect, Trust and Empathy are so important to truly share consumable feedback that can elevate performance. Of course receiver’s like PO that are driven by fiery desire to learn and open to tolerate even harsh training are rare to find, for the rest of us, it helps to make constant & persistent (gentle) nudges to connect, relate with empathy and earn trust with all earnestness in order to make the feedback effective.
As depicted in the picture, having all the three ingredients is fantastic (connect with the person/team to understand their background/situation, empathy while sharing the feedback (and also making the receiver empathize with the purpose of the feedback) and most importantly the element of trust (on the credentials of the person sharing feedback as well as that there is a perception of genuine intent to improve the receiver). Having one or two of the three may not yield the full impact (while of course some message will always get through).
There are multiple examples of great leaders like Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam or F.C. Kohli who were stern task masters but also truly connected with their team, earned their respect time & again with multiple acts of kindness and helped them realize their potential.
While trust usually tends to be a long term affair, the other two elements can be practiced constantly by – turning up regularly (towards opportunities, helping a colleague, asking questions, small acts of kindness, appreciation, being more visible, making oneself heard and so on) and empathizing with the context/team/individual. As I indicated in my previous posts, some of the techniques that (the principles of) Agile propose(s) are just to provide the opportunities of exposure so that the teams can get together often and practice CET. And the mark of a high performing team is where feedback flows seamlessly like an unconstrained stream working magic along the way.