When someone tells you they have feedback for you, do you feel filled with giddy anticipation? Probably not. Most of us are more likely to experience sweaty palms and a racing heart. "It can be very scary sometimes to ask for feedback," says Daniel Jester, host of The Creative Operations Podcast. Feedback is seen as a threat, making us fearful or possibly defensive.
Farfetch's Terence Mahone doesn't see feedback that way. In his studio, Terence normalizes it and emphasizes its place within a team's healthy communication.
To see if his feedback zeal can be spread to the rest of us, Terence stopped by the pod. Want to hear his full chat with Daniel? Find it on the website, Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, or Spotify. For a handful of pointers on how to make feedback less cringe-worthy in your studio, read along.
Start by Dismantling Your Culture of Fear
We're in an era of Twitter courage and plenty of people who have some serious, "I need to speak with your manager," energy. We're in the midst of takedown culture, so it's no surprise that most of us are guarded when someone wants to offer their (often unsolicited) views on our performance.
"It's like a chill goes up your spine, your eyes turn a little bit glassy," Terence says. "You prepare to hear something negative about what you've done. Partly it's because we live in a culture where we're most likely to complain about things that go wrong rather than to compliment on things that go right. There's just a cultural norm around it, that feedback is almost always negative."
It's not like our fearfulness is crazy, Daniel is quick to point out.
"I think a lot of fear stems from, if we do a bad enough job, we may lose our job—and that is concerning, obviously, to a lot of people," he says.
If your studio team lives in constant fear that their livelihood is under threat, then frankly, you have problems far bigger than this feedback concern. You need to address the ethics, communication, and culture surrounding any well-founded fears your team has, then carry on to the points below.
Create Growth-Oriented Feedback
As we said, feedback doesn't need to represent a fear of job loss. Instead, let's make it a form of encouragement to keep a gig or get a promotion.
"If you live within a culture of fear, this is really difficult, but if you live within a culture where your manager encourages growth, where your manager looks at failure as an opportunity to get better, whether it's a personal failure or team failure, then I think you start to live within a culture where feedback becomes truly meaningful," Terence says.
This sort of growth-oriented feedback serves as a great way for team members to not only hold themselves accountable but to hold their management and employer accountable for recognizing their effort and achievement.
"Next year, you can take that feedback you received and say, 'Hey, look, in 2021, I received some feedback about my performance and these three points were called out,'" Terence says. "In 2022— fast forward 12 months from now—you can say, 'Hey, I addressed these specific things,' and look for that feedback again."
The subtle difference here is that it's a brand of feedback that implies people will keep their jobs, not lose them.
"I'm going to have an opportunity to work with someone and I'm going to either demonstrate yet again what I do and get good feedback on it, or I'm going to have an opportunity to readdress the things that have been identified for me as growth areas, get some feedback, and show I'm growing," Terence says.
Let Your Feedback End in a Question Mark
When Terence has feedback sessions with his direct reports, he's slow to judgment and quick to emphasize what he doesn't yet know. It's a practice that can positively influence team members so that their feedback similarly comes from a place of humility and inquisition.
"I had a manager that taught me really well to ask questions," he says. "Instead of thinking that you know something, figure out what you don't know yet. When something goes wrong or something goes right, your first reaction shouldn't be necessarily to draw a conclusion, but maybe to find out more information about what's happening. In some ways that's the nature of feedback, right? It's asking for more information, it's not necessarily saying, 'Hey, here's a formed opinion.'"
You don't need to have all the answers—not with your superiors and not with your reports. Ask questions.
And Yes, You Can Speak to the Manager
There's a nuanced way of using questions as a form of creating feedback channels for your superiors too, Terence explains.
"Wouldn't it be great to have that conversation with your manager, as an employee, and ask your manager, 'How do you see your job supporting me?'" Terence asks. "I think it's something I'm pretty explicit with my employees about. This is my job, this is how I'm going to try to do it, and please help me get better at it."
By bringing this question to your studio and company management, you cause them to self-reflect on what they are or aren't doing to position you for success.
Make Feedback a Lifestyle in Your Studio
If feedback is something your team seldom delves into, of course, it's going to be awkward and clumsy. "If the only time you do it is half a dozen times at the end of the year or midyear during reviews, you're not necessarily going to be great at it," Terence says
By having more micro-sessions of feedback—maybe more one-on-ones amongst your team members—you eliminate the tension of suspense for what would otherwise be a rare occasion, one that feels more grandiose and possibly performative.
"It's a matter of creating practice and playfulness with it," Terence says. "Then people break down that barrier that says, 'Oh, feedback has to be this thing. It has to be this huge project,' or whatever. No, you can give feedback to someone on the fact that they make coffee every morning. They get in early, they take five minutes out of their day to make coffee for the team before everyone else gets in. Is it a huge thing, does it get you a big promotion? Probably not. Is it worth giving feedback on, does it show how the person is as a team player? Yeah, absolutely."
Take the fuss out of feedback. Add times into your studio schedule when feedback can naturally take place, and encourage regular practice of it.
Ready for a little feedback here? We think you, after reading this, are well-prepared to carry Terence's lessons to your studio. But if you want the full discussion—including a crucial segment on cake versus ice cream sandwiches for team birthday celebrations—listen on Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or our website.