Why You Should Ask For A Slap in the Face: The Trilemma of Truthful Feedback

How often did you hear these comments: You deserved it! Very, very well done! Awesome! Wonderful! They are part of our culture. You got to be nice with each other. But is it truthful? Does it help you? Do you believe it when said to you?

Here’s the problem: We’ve become so bloody careful about how to not trigger someone else’s feelings that truly truthful feedback has almost become a thing of impossibility or at least extremely hard to get.

Most likely you would agree with me here that sometimes a good slap in the face might be worth 10x all the bullshit people tell each other just for “staying nice”.

Truthful feedback is the breakfast of champions.

The truthful-feedback-trilemma consists of three points:

  1. Staying nice: Not hurting each other’s feelings
  2. Speaking the truth: Providing truthful feedback
  3. Collaborate, learn and level-up together successfully

Truth may hurt. But I believe in the long run knowing where you’re at is much better than receiving numerous pats on the back. However, in our society you got to ask for people to be truthful. Normal people usually shy away from potentially offending someone by speaking outright what they think.

On the other side receiving lame feedback, hearing lots of nice stuff and being applauded for average performance doesn’t help you to improve at all. It’s more like holding you back in your self-chosen comfort zone. What a lost opportunity. The most valuable feedback is truthful feedback!

When my first business partner and I ventured out to kick-off our start-up a few years back, the very first thing we clarified was that no matter what: We’ll always be providing each other truthful feedback. Even and especially if it’s hard. No matter the circumstances. It was paramount for success.

A good slap in the face sometimes helps saving time and money as well.

If you want to learn and grow, you must not hide in your comfort zone.

The first step to take is to let people around you know that you’re available to get slapped in your face every once in a while. If you follow the below guide it will not hurt you! I promise. The actual value of truthful feedback is heavily underestimated in our world.

Learn to say to your closest contacts: “I’d love a slap in the face!” – in the above context. I promise, It’ll work magic. If you could choose, you’d always choose to know the painful truth over beautiful lies. Also, an upfront slap in your face is nicer than ongoing backstabbing or talking behind people.

Feedback is education to excellence.

Seek it with sincerity and receive it with grace.

Agreed, delivering the truth still needs to happen in a civilized way. There are three parts that need to collaborate to make this work:

  1. The feedback giver
  2. The feedback receiver
  3. Create a safe environment

The Feedback Giver

A feedback giver has the power to provide a new perspective to someone who’s looking to improve. If you’re asked to provide feedback, you can help another person thrive if you can be real and provide constructive feedback.

The trouble with “real feedback” is, it’s been done poorly by most of us. That’s why a “feedback giver”, should spend some time considering a few points.

Feedback, when given well, should not alienate, but should motivate to perform better.

First and Foremost: Know Your “Why”!

Before you start sharing your opinions, think about what is “meaningful” feedback for the receiver and what “goal” could be achieved by providing it.

Whatever feedback you provide: Know your “why” – the purpose!

The key to giving effective feedback lies in your intentions. Not the methods.

Your intentions must be about helping others, not about yourself.

Second: Be Clear What Role You Take.

You can give feedback as a 1. coach, to 2. appreciate something or to 3. evaluate it.

Understand what the receiver expects of you. A restaurant critic that writes an entertaining article about how bad a restaurant is provides an evaluation. A loved one tells his family how much they mean to him as appreciator. And a leader coaches his subordinates to improve and get better.

Know your role!

Third: Know How to Deliver Your Feedback.

It matters whether you tell someone something in private, in front of a group, in writing, over the phone or by a simple text message. The various forms of communication allow for multiple mistakes to be made again. My rule here: Ask the feedback receiver directly how to feedback!

The more complex a topic, the closer you should be with someone and the better you ought to understand the actual purpose of the feedback. For more critical topics, privacy is better than sharing things publicly. A personal conversation can be accompanied with more emotions and mimic. A phone call may include emotions as well, but no face expressions can be captured. Written form is great for receivers that love to read and keep the content for later.

There’s nothing wrong with asking first!

Ask!

Some people need or even love the less direct way. For such receivers you can start your message with good things and appreciations, then “sandwich” the less positive part in the middle and end off by showing how to improve going forward.

I call this the “sugarcoat-sandwich”.

It works.

Others are turned-off by that very same way to communicate and prefer getting straight to the point though! Know your audience.

Once the above three points are settled, you as feedback giver simply have to focus on providing feedback that is clear, maybe includes some actionable steps for the receiver and know how to deliver the message.

The Feedback Receiver

If you’re the feedback receiver, you’re the one basically asking for a well served “slap in the face” – potentially. If that’s what you want, it’s very simple: Do let the feedback giver know you’re available for it. Make yourself available for truthful feedback. If you manage to unlock an unfiltered true feedback loop you will unlock new areas to grow.

We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.

You can do certain things to increase your chances to make it happen.

First and foremost, you stand a better chance to get useful feedback from people whose mission is aligned with you. Your supervisor, some colleagues or your good clients might be very happy to let you know how and what to improve. Don’t shy back: Ask for it!

There’s two ways you can ask:

If you’re interested in other peoples’ opinions or thoughts: Ask for feedback. If asked for feedback, usual feedback givers take half a step away from you and try to think how they feel about what you do, say, write or sell. Asking for feedback will get you more diversity in new information.

If you’re interested in what you yourself can improve: Ask for advice instead. If asked for advice, usual feedback givers take half a step towards you and try to think about you and add more ideas towards what they think you could or should do differently or less/ more of. Asking for advice will get you more actionable information.

Learners need endless feedback more than they need endless teaching.

To receive useful high-quality feedback, it’s of utmost importance that you learn to become a good listener. Most people are natural “listeners to reply”. Learn how to listen someone out. Good listeners also beware of suppressing their initial natural reactions.

An expected slap in your face doesn’t hurt as much!

Control what you can control.

Keep your mask on.

They also refrain from explaining or even defending their own point of view or actions. Don’t do that. Let the feedback giver talk. The more they talk, the more information you can get. While listening, moderate your emotional spectrum and reactions. Listen to the end. Then reflect and think.

The world is giving you answers each day.

Learn to listen.

If you’re really up for “getting slapped” but you’re afraid nobody will give you the shit you’re asking for, it might be because you’re the boss yourself or your surrounding doesn’t appeal save for anyone to speak the truth.

In that case there’s a third part you got to facilitate.

Create a Safe Environment

The first two parts of the framework are key on a human to human level. They work well for 1-on-1 situations. However, if you’re in a corporate or more political situation, you’re basically asking a larger group to be upfront with you. In such environments the most essential thing to do is to create the culture and sufficiently safe environment for everyone to provide truthful feedback.

It’s scientifically proven that some companies have ended up very successful because addressing “painful truths” is encouraged – they equal better performance!

You can start this by not blaming anyone expressing out-of-the-box ideas or thoughts. In any group-session try to emphasize the value of remaining open minded and sharing true feelings and thoughts.

Second, don’t just talk about work alone. Make the members of your group get acquainted with each other. Building a team of people that understand and enjoy working with each other will unlock more potential.

Third, when talking about issues, products or processes, never frame it as “work”. Instead, talk about solving problems or learning and improving together. This will level-up engagement.

Fourth, as leader, acknowledge that you are not perfect yourself. Learn to show weakness. Showcase how you keep learning on a daily basis as well. This will create a safer, non-hostile environment where “try-and-fail” is accepted or even encouraged. If you play the strong tough guy on top, nobody will dare to tell you stuff the way it is.

Fifth, if you start to get more diverse feedbacks, you’ve reached your initial goal. Now, your challenge will be to “walk the talk”. You got to make people feel safe when they speak up and share their ideas. If at this point you blame or shame certain people or their ideas, all your previous efforts are lost.

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak.

Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.

Sir Winston Churchill

Conclusion

Make understood that you won’t be offended by truthful feedback. On the contrary, ask especially for the “less positive things” people might have to say:

Ask for a slap in the face!

It may not be what you want to hear, but most likely it’s something you may need to hear. In the short term, hearing the “naked truth” may hurt, but in the long run it’s probably what will make you improve more, it’s what will differentiate you from others and these things are so much better than the occasional put on the shoulder and “well done” kind of comments people usually exchange.

Feedback is a gift. Ideas are the currency of our next success.

Let people see you value both feedback and ideas.

If you’d like to read more about this or similar topics, I can highly recommend you a quirky, fun, little book: Whatever you think, think the opposite.  It’s a great source for an occasional laugh and for situations where you need a clever quote. It also does give good advice.

Now imagine how refreshing and empowering applying this method can be: Go ask for YOUR slap in YOUR face!

Happy slapping!

Matt

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One Reply to “Why You Should Ask For A Slap in the Face: The Trilemma of Truthful Feedback”

  1. I used to be responsible for hundreds of employees working at the corporation that I ran. While I agree with what you are saying my experience is that it works better going downhill. In other words I could be very frank and candid when I was reviewing my team members’ individual performance one to one. But it doesn’t work very well going uphill. My experience is that people generally wanted to tell me what they thought I wanted to hear. They always had an agenda, after all, I decided on their raises and bonuses, so telling me about my flaws wasn’t something they were prone to do. I had a handful of rock star performers who were not worried about offending me because they could make a call or a text and have their choice of jobs the very next day, with our competitors. But outside of them, most people did not give me reliable feedback. Our company did spend a lot of money doing a 360 feedback anonymous survey that did get me some good information because nobody was connected to their comments. But even then it was hard to determine what was real constructive criticism and what was sour grapes from a disaffected employed. It was a little better when you could ask your peers on your level in the organization, but those people are also your competition, therefore they had hidden agendas as well. I was well liked as a boss, and maybe that hurt the feedback too. I was careful to be much more of an encourager than a critic of my team members, and I don’t think people wanted to hurt my feelings since I took some care with theirs.

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