Giving constructive feedback can be an art form. Some people tend to take feedback personally, even when it’s given with the best of intentions. Giving feedback well often comes down to knowing how to approach those conversations on a case-by-case basis, as there is no “one” good way of providing feedback. In this episode, Levels Head of Growth, Ben Grynol, and Head of Operations, Michael ‘Miz’ Mizrahi, discuss the concept of giving and receiving feedback and why it’s so important to the culture at Levels.
06:19 – The importance of feedback
Miz broke down the different kinds of feedback and why is it important that a company has a good feedback system.
The thing that I think is helpful is just to remember that volume of feedback is helpful. The more feedback you give, regardless of how small, really adds up and gets you in the habit of closing the loop constantly, making sure that people know that things are seen. And watching the line between where things get petty and don’t actually help versus areas where you’re not sure if they fully grasp the concept. You want to make sure that the point has landed can often lead to very interesting conversations where you assume someone might know something, but the very nature of bringing it up, opens the conversation and can snowball into something else completely that’s very interesting.
09:45 – Giving positive feedback Miz said that a culture of giving kudos and positive shout-outs to employees makes everyone feel valued and celebrated.
In terms of being positive, it’s very easy to overlook that I think in a lot of work cultures because you just assume people are doing their job and just go along. There’s too much to worry about, to pause and have this moment of gratitude and appreciation. But the value that it adds is so significant and it’s a mindset and a practice that requires a lot of work. And so, I think that was one of the things that interested me in the Levels culture early on when I joined is that that was plentiful. And I think we’ve done a good job of keeping that up using a celebration channel or a woo channel, whatever it might be calling people out, giving kudos often just promotes this positive culture of encouragement and sets us up well to have an entire framework for feedback where that’s a piece of it. We’re not just going for the aiming to assist directly.
13:54 – Make feedback actionable and tie it to OKRs
OKRs stand for objectives and key results, a goal-setting methodology that can help your team set and track measurable goals.
I don’t know if this example works, but similar to the OKR model, right? You have the objectives and then you have key results. The aim to assist part is the high-level overarching goals. The key results are what you can actually do to achieve those goals. And so that’s where the actionable part comes in. I can give you feedback, but if there’s nothing you can actually do with it and you can’t see why that feedback draws a lie to an outcome that’s different that ties to the aiming to assist then it’s not really helpful. It’s just criticism. So, making it actionable is what takes it over the line there. And that’s hard to do oftentimes because it’s very hard to zoom out even if you’re the one giving the feedback to understand what you’re actually trying to mean.
17:41 – Subjective feedback
There are two types of feedback; subjective and objective. Subjective feedback is difficult because it’s more personal, such as calling someone’s attention to the fact that they use filler words when presenting.
Subjective feedback is really hard to give because it’s personal. And so, you still feel the need to give that feedback and it’s worth asking why. What about that delivery sounds off to you or might be causing issues? It might be the credibility thing. “Hey, when you speak like this, it’s not sending a message of competence, and it doesn’t portray a ton of public speaking experience.” You’re like, “Lessens the value of your message because it’s distracting and you can work on it a little bit better.” And so, putting it in that lens versus either shying away from it, not giving it, because it’s uncomfortable to give such feedback that could be subjected and personal or giving it, but not connecting it to, again, an output or a change that would actually be helpful. It’s okay to call out those things if it’s done correctly, and tastefully, and with the right level of emotional intelligence, and two, if it will lead to better outcomes for that person, it’s almost like a tough-love situation, hopefully delivered one way.
25:30 – Feedback timing
There’s so much nuance and context to feedback, but one clear factor is that the timing is very important.
I think generally we hear feedback should be timely, feedback should be timely. I think there’s reasons for that. On one hand, you don’t want to give feedback months later because it feels like you’ve been holding it in, and if it could have been valuable and helpful to that person all the time since, and you’re waiting for the six-month mark when they do their performance review, then you’re doing a disservice to both parties, to yourself, to the company, to the person. So you want to give it as close as possible to the actual incident so that the situation’s clear, the context is remembered, but there’s also a flip side to that, which is timing really does matter. And so, if someone’s in the middle of an effort, they’re about to go up on stage and get this big presentation and you want to give them feedback on how they’re approaching a certain part of it. There’s the one hand which is to say they might get it right for the big presentation. And there’s a second, which you might completely derail then and kill their self-esteem right in that moment when they’re about to step out.
30:11 – When feedback isn’t getting through
Occasionally someone’s behavior will remain out of line even after feedback and clear standards are set. In that case, you have to consider whether they are a poor fit for your company.
There’s the meta-conversation about receiving feedback, not even about that specific incident, but at the end of the day in the spirit of we’re a team not a family. If someone’s behavior is absolutely destructive and they’re not reacting to the feedback and they’ve gotten multiple approaches to it that were very clear, there comes a point where a very serious conversation has to happen between folks and that person that makes the expectations of the workplace clear, draws a line, and sets the new standard moving forward. And if that continues to not be met and it’s destructive, you have to move on to the next conversations of whether or not that person’s a fit in that environment or what the steps to remedy the situation are.
35:46 – Determine if your feedback is necessary
Miz emphasized that not all feedback is objective and actionable, and sometimes it can be too subjective. It’s important to zoom out and take stock.
There’s something about knowing if the feedback that you’re giving is more a reflection of your own preferences or approach versus whether or not it actually results in a better outcome. So, I might be a real stickler for your use of the Oxford comma, but this person writes without it and double spaces after their periods. That’s a knit, that’s a peeve that I’ve got. Is my feedback giving just related to my style and approach here, or does it actually have something related to outcome and execution that matters? So, there’s subtlety there.
46:19 – Nail your delivery
Miz said that some feedback can be quick and to-the-point, while other feedback should be delivered emotionally.
Very often if you’re giving positive feedback, objective or subjective, performance or execution-related, there’s very little doubt in your mind that the feedback you’re given is valid or that it will be questioned or that the person would want to understand more. It’s certainly just like a, yep, got it. Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it, and it’s reinforcing a positive behavior. When it gets into the constructive category and not specifically something objective and execution related there’s room for discussion, there’s room for interpretation, there’s room for nuance. And delivering that message effectively is really important and the emotional side of it really matters.
Ben Grynol (00:06):
For whatever reason, some people can be harder to give feedback to because they’re not willing to appreciate that you are trying to be helpful, you’re aiming to assist, you are trying to give actionable feedback. Especially when it’s objective and people take it personal, working through things from an emotional intelligence perspective where it’s like everyone is going to receive feedback differently, knowing how to approach those conversations on a case by case basis, because there really is not a good way of doing it.
Ben Grynol (00:45):
I’m Ben Grynol, part of the early startup team here at Levels. We’re building tech that helps people to understand their metabolic health, and this is your front row seat to everything we do. This is A Whole New Level. Giving and receiving feedback is never easy. Sometimes you can give feedback to people and it can be challenging, but it can also be really hard to receive feedback, even if it’s positive or constructive. There are all these different things to think about when it comes to the idea of feedback. Well, as an asynchronous and remote first company, you don’t have the opportunity to give people feedback casually in the hallway, even if it is a head nod, a positive, “Hey, that went really well in that meeting.”
Ben Grynol (01:41):
You have to be more in intentional about the feedback, about the performance review process. Is it something that we should do regularly? How do we go about doing it? Especially knowing that we don’t just want to set up phone calls or video calls to tell somebody, “Hey, you did a great job there.” It’s something that runs deep, and as our team starts to scale out, we have to be very thoughtful, very calculated, very intentional about the way that we promote the idea of giving and receiving feedback internally.
Ben Grynol (02:12):
Feedback really starts from this foundation, this place of honesty, transparency, and openness. How willing are people to be receptive to the feedback? What are some models? What are some takeaways that we can use from either insights gathered outside of Levels, that being Netflix, a great company that we tend to borrow lots of their cultural values, and implement what works within our team. We don’t take it verbatim, but we take a lot of insight, we take cues from them, what has worked, and what might work for us moving forward.
Ben Grynol (02:41):
So, Miz and I sat down and we discussed this idea of giving and receiving feedback, how we might use some of these cues internally, and what we can do to continue iterating on this process as the team grows. It’s a very important conversation. It’s something that we take very seriously, and we want to make sure that our team always maintains open channels of communication. The more open you are as a team, the more work that gets done. Here’s where we dug in.
Ben Grynol (03:14):
This is a topic about giving and receiving feedback, and it’s a very hard thing to do because there’s multiple ways of looking at it, right? When giving feedback, it can be hard to give people feedback that is honest and direct sometimes, but it’s also easy to throw feedback over the fence. Like just give something to somebody and they don’t really know what to do with it. And on the other side, it can be hard to receive positive feedback because sometimes you don’t know how to express your gratitude for it, nut it can also be hard to hear constructive feedback. And so, this stem from No Rules Rules, which was a book we did for our book club. It’s based on the Netflix culture. And they’ve got a really nice model on the idea of giving and receiving feedback. So, why don’t we start there, walk through what that is, and then go through some of our philosophies and the way that we think about feedback as a team.
Michael Mizrahi (04:07):
Sounds good. And I think the big sections here, there’s the giving feedback piece, there’s the receiving feedback piece, and then there’s a third part of what is feedback? What are the different kinds of feedback, and when might you give it in different scenarios? And so, we’ll get into those details. Let’s start with giving feedback. What’s the goal of feedback from your perspective? What does No Rules Rules say about it? How have we seeded actions in our culture? What are your general approach there?
Ben Grynol (04:31):
So, the idea of giving feedback is that we want to give feedback, I think people in general want to give people either in a professional setting or a personal setting, you want to give feedback. Sometimes it could be feedback to your neighbor. “I really appreciate the meal that you made me.” You show gratitude. There’s a way of just expressing positive feedback. In a workplace, you can do the same thing. “Hey Miz, thanks for all the work you’re doing on people ops.” There’s a salient example, right?
Ben Grynol (04:59):
There’s also constructive feedback that can be macro in nature, company related. Let’s say a new hire comes in, starts emailing for communication instead of using Threads. We can point the fingers back at ourselves as a team and say, “Where is it broken in onboarding that it’s not clear that we don’t communicate through email?” Different scenario. But it’s entirely okay to say macro feedback, “Hey, we tend to communicate through Threads or Notion for these things.” So, that’s one scenario of giving feedback.
Ben Grynol (05:28):
Another is sometimes it’s micro feedback that’s pointed at specific execution. So, it might be Braden is doing something in Help Scout. You see the way that he addressed a customer and it might have been a member, and it might not have had enough context to actually answer the question. So, you might say, “Hey, Braden, the way that you framed it, I don’t know if you really answered their question. You might want to approach it this way.” So, your idea is that you’re trying to be helpful with that feedback. And that’s that first A from the Netflix model, which is aim to assist. So, you’re always trying to assist in the feedback you’re giving.
Michael Mizrahi (06:00):
Yeah. There’s something in that example with Braden or with anyone that’s a hypothetical, where sometimes the feedback is so small, it’s these sees micro moments where you see something and it’s like, “Maybe I should say something, maybe I shouldn’t. I don’t know how this would be received. Or maybe I’m misunderstanding and he actually does have the full context, but in this case didn’t really share it effectively.”
Michael Mizrahi (06:18):
And so, in those cases, the thing that I think is helpful is just to remember that volume of feedback is helpful. The more feedback you give, regardless of how small, really adds up and gets you in the habit of closing the loop constantly, making sure that people know that things are seen. And watching the line between where things get petty and don’t actually help versus areas where you’re not sure if they fully grasp the concept. You want to make sure that the point has landed can often lead to very interesting conversations where you assume someone might know something, but the very nature of bringing it up, opens the conversation and can snowball into something else completely that’s very interesting.
Michael Mizrahi (06:54):
And so, volume of giving micro feedback is very helpful, so long as it’s through the lens of assisting. And also, we’ll get into this concept, but understanding where you are on the trust battery and having situational awareness of what you’re delivering as the sender and where the receiver is at, at that moment in time. That’s pretty important to consider.
Ben Grynol (07:12):
Why don’t we break down the model to it? We bypassed it. We passed this model. So, the four As are aim to assist with feedback, make sure that feedback is actionable. This is on the giving end. On the receiving end, you appreciate the feedback, and then you have the opportunity or the decision to make whether you accept or discard. And there’s nuance to all of this. So, actually let’s go into one thing before we get into actionable. One thing that you mentioned that is true and has a caveat to it. So, the truism of it is giving lots of feedback is great, as long as it’s not petty.
Ben Grynol (07:46):
But even if it’s not petty, and this is where on the receiving end, you have to be open to it. You’re not giving feedback because you are trying to assist, you’re trying to give actionable feedback, but if you give me… I just start, I started yesterday and you give me 15 pieces of feedback, I just feel like I’m failing. You give me 15 in a day and I’m like, “Man, does Miz think I suck? I thought they hired me because they trusted me.” Even though your lens is you’re trying to help, it comes across like, “Does Miz always work like this? Is he going to nitpick everything I do?”
Ben Grynol (08:19):
And so, the caveat is you have to be open to feedback as a receiver, but as a person who’s giving feedback, there’s also a point where you have to give positive feedback and accolades in addition to constructive feedback when you’re trying to be helpful, otherwise it looks like all you do is just say, “Hey, you’re not meeting the mark.” And that gets really difficult. That’s where the whole idea of feedback is a very difficult, challenging thing, and there’s never a point where anyone has mastered feedback. It’s like being able to give and receive feedback well is a lifelong lesson. It’s like you always are getting better and better at it because it’s just really hard to do.
Michael Mizrahi (08:58):
These are the human skills that are very difficult to just train in an online module, or “Here’s a memo on how to give feedback effectively.” So much of this is just raw human relationships, emotional intelligence, and you work on that over time as you mature as a person, as you go through life experiences. So, it’s not something that can simply be taught. What we can do is frame it in the context of a work environment. What’s effective, what’s not? What’s a good framework and lens to look at feedback through, so that the ultimate goal is you’re lifting up the peers around you and you’re improving the output of the company as a whole.
Ben Grynol (09:31):
So, with this idea of feedback being so you’re aiming to assist, right? Let’s remove this idea of feedback that expresses gratitude. That is just being a kind person, and we should all default to that in general.
Michael Mizrahi (09:44):
Well, a note on that, giving feedback just in terms of being positive. It’s very easy to overlook that I think in a lot of work cultures because you just assume people are doing their job and just go along. There’s too much to worry about, to pause and have this moment of gratitude and appreciation. But the value that it adds is so significant and it’s a mindset and a practice that requires a lot of work. And so, I think that was one of the things that interested me in the Levels culture early on when I joined is that that was plentiful. And I think we’ve done a good job of keeping that up using a celebration channel or a woo channel, whatever it might be calling people out, giving kudos often just promotes this positive culture of encouragement and sets us up well to have an entire framework for feedback where that’s a piece of it. We’re not just going for the aiming to assist directly.
Ben Grynol (10:27):
Yeah. It comes from a genuine place where the default is kindness, as opposed to, you can tell people aren’t giving feedback because they’re trying to blow smoke or pump people’s tires up or have some public visibility or some optics to it. It’s like if people say, “Hey Braden, you did a really great job in addressing this customer issue that came up and it was a really challenging situation. Just wanted to you know, we all appreciate that work. And that’s a public form of accolades.” That little touch point a lot because you actually do appreciate it. It’s not like, “Braden, you’re the best.” That’s not the point of it. It’s very specific, and I think that’s what makes it genuine.
Michael Mizrahi (11:06):
Yeah. It’s okay too, as just like a tip for others for a few weeks just to build this habit. When I noticed that was going on in the culture, I made a reminder of my to-do-list on a weekly basis. Think through the week, think of people who did a good job or, or were helpful at something and just send them a note to say, “Thanks.” And part of that can feel a little bit overly structured. It must not be genuine if you have to put it in your to-do-list and think about it, but it’s a matter of building the habit. And then once you do that a few times, you then have your eyes open for things that are going on and you can do it much more quickly and just build it into your habits effectively. But it’s okay to take a little bit of a structured approach to get into the habit that doesn’t make the sentiment any less genuine or valuable.
Ben Grynol (11:43):
Exactly. I don’t think it’s bad to be putting it on a to-do-list because of being a sync and remote. Meaning there’s not a, I bumped into you later in the day after we had a meeting together that was synchronous in an in-person work environment. And you’re like, “Hey, Miz, I wanted to let you know the way that you position that thing in that meeting was really helpful to the team and appreciate you framing it that way or bringing it up because I don’t think we would’ve talked about it otherwise.” That just can’t happen in a remote environment. And so you are our own process for doing it. Meaning, make a note to write it on your notepad, to send the person the asynchronous message later is like your own transactional way of not distracting yourself, but knowing it’s important to address this with a person later and just say, “Hey, I wanted to let you know.”
Michael Mizrahi (12:28):
Exactly. Yeah. It doesn’t diminish the value. It’s just a mechanism to make sure it happens.
Ben Grynol (12:34):
So, let’s go into actionable. Actionable is interesting because you might be able to give a person really helpful and constructive feedback, but that person might not know what to do with that feedback. Meaning let’s keep using this Braden example. Braden answers, you gave feedback that was aiming to assist given like this helps code example. He’s helping a customer and you said, “It was a little bit vague.” And he is like, “Great. I know it was vague now because you told me, but you didn’t give me anything. What’s the suggested next step?” When that’s missing from feedback, then the feedback doesn’t become actionable. It just becomes like, hey, I’m letting you know this thing didn’t meet the mark. And then it’s like telling somebody that and then just walking away and that will never help anyone. And so, if you say you framed it this way, if you try framing it either A or B, the outcome might be the person’s 10 out of 10 happy instead of four out of 10. And then he goes, “Great,” because he’s got some action to move forward with, some suggested way of changing either that tactic or initiative or behavior to be better. I think that’s a really important part of giving feedback is making sure that it is aiming to assist, but there’s some actionable outcome for a next step.
Michael Mizrahi (13:54):
Yeah, I don’t know if this example works, but similar to the OKR model, right? You have the objectives and then you have key results. The aim to assist part is the high level overarching goals. The key results are what you can actually do to achieve those goals. And so, that’s where the actionable part comes in. I can give you feedback, but if there’s nothing you can actually do with it and you can’t see why that feedback draws a lie to an outcome that’s different that ties to the aiming to assist then it’s not really helpful. It’s just criticism. So, making it actionable is what takes it over the line there. And that’s hard to do oftentimes because it’s very hard to zoom out even if you’re the one giving the feedback to understand what you’re actually trying to mean.
Michael Mizrahi (14:30):
You might notice an interaction or see something written down or whatever and feel that something’s off. And so, you want to you back about that, but it does take yourself taking a step back, thinking big picture, getting some more elevation on it to understand what the broader message that you’re trying to send is. And only then can you make it actionable? And so, not for every scenario, but in some, it does take a little bit of work on the giving side to understand what you’re actually trying to say and think through how it might actually be received and how it can actually be effective in changing that for the future.
Ben Grynol (15:00):
And one thing which we don’t need to digress too deeply into yet, because we could probably chat about it after is the idea of seeking out feedback, too. So, if you are doing something and you are unsure, great opportunity to seek out feedback. Now, even if you are Michael Jordan and you’ve mastered the chest pass, right? Or so you think, you’ve mastered the free throw. There’s a reason why you are constantly working on forms. So even if you have spent a lot of time doing a certain task, doing a certain thing, you might say, “Hey, do you see anything off about my form here in this chest pass? Is there something I can tweak?” And that can be helpful too, because you can’t see your own chest pass, but somebody else can see the way that your arms are holding the ball and pushing it out. And you say, “Yeah, actually if you just move your arm back in, it’s going to be a neutral position to do that chest pass, and you’ll probably won’t injure your arm or you’ll get a lot better control and force out of it.”
Ben Grynol (15:56):
And so, it doesn’t matter how experienced somebody is. Being able to seek out micro feedback about performance even when you have done something for many years. It’s actually probably a better opportunity to seek it out because then you fall into the trap of thinking like, “Well, I know how to do this already.” So, giving feedback to touch on this before we get into receiving. One of the hardest things about giving feedback is this idea of the person who is giving it has to understand the type of feedback that they’re giving and why they’re giving it. So there are two types of feedback. One is objective and one is subjective.
Ben Grynol (16:30):
So, objective feedback would be, and let’s go stream on this. “Hey, Miz, you broke the law by breaking into somebody’s car. That’s against the law. That’s objectively wrong. I wanted to let you know that’s wrong.” That’s very objective. Subjective is like, “Hey, Miz, the color of shoes that you wore to that meeting. I don’t really like the shoes, but people might have thought that they were inappropriate wearing,” whatever it is. You wore clown shoes to a meeting. People might not take you seriously. It’s subjective. But framing it as, especially when it is subjective, giving people subjective feedback and just say, “I’ve got some feedback for you. It’s subjective. But here it is.” So then as a where you can know the place that it is coming from and you might be more receptive to objective feedback than subjective.
Michael Mizrahi (17:20):
Yeah. Another place this might show up on the subjective side is around someone’s personality or maybe this is the wrong approach, someone’s delivery of some specific things. So, if someone uses a lot of filler words when they’re presenting, a lot of likes or ums. Objectively, there’s nothing wrong with that person, with their content, with the way they’re navigating it. But the subjective feedback there is really hard to give because it’s personal. And so, you still feel the need to give that feedback and it’s worth asking why. What about that delivery sounds off to you or might be causing issues? It might be the credibility thing. “Hey, when you speak like this, it’s not sending a message of competence, and it doesn’t portray a ton of public speaking experience.” You’re like, “Lessens the value of your message because it’s distracting and you can work on it a little bit better.” And so, putting it in that lens versus either shying away from it, not giving it, because it’s uncomfortable to give such feedback that could be subjected and personal or giving it, but not connecting it to, again, an output or a change that would actually be helpful. It’s okay to call out those things if it’s done correctly, and tastefully, and with the right level of emotional intelligence, and two, if it will lead to better outcomes for that person, it’s almost like a tough love situation, hopefully delivered one way.
Ben Grynol (18:38):
Yeah. On that note, this is where the idea of receiving feedback gets hard is one of the As is appreciate. So you say thank you. Netflix is so literal or so like it says in the book, tell the person thank you for the feedback. I appreciate this. But generally, you should express some sense of gratitude or some sense of appreciation for people letting you know what the feedback is. Now, this is where it gets really hard is that for whatever reason, some people can be harder of give feedback to because they’re not willing to appreciate that you are trying to be helpful. You’re aiming to assist. You are trying to give actionable feedback, especially when it’s objective and people take it personal. And this is a really hard thing. And I think this is just working through things from an emotional intelligence perspective where it’s like, “Everyone is going to receive feedback differently,” and knowing how to approach those conversations on a case by case basis, because there really is not a good way of doing it.
Ben Grynol (19:39):
So meaning you and I are recording a video. And the last time we did it, you had your lights off and you had a grainy camera and you were in a room with a ton of reverb. And I give very objective feedback and said, “Hey, Miz, I want to let you know the last time we recorded this video, the quality wasn’t there, and here were the things that was wrong with it. The lighting, the audio, quality of the camera, here’s how to fix it.” It doesn’t matter that it was like that for the last video, but for this one we should do step one, two, and three. And you on the receiving end take it very personal like it’s an attack or you take it like you get defensive about it. And that gets really hard because you almost need to… And this gets into the trust battery thing where you have to have these open conversations and say, “I understand it might be sensitive, but let’s talk about this because it’s feeling off right now. Let’s not let this just bury it under the rug and we walk away like you got feedback and you pretended to appreciate it, but you really didn’t. That’s where I think it’s worth having a deeper conversation to get to the root of a problem.
Michael Mizrahi (20:43):
Yeah. And there are some things that we can do to make that a little bit easier. There’s things to consider. A person might have certain sensitivities or source spots where if you’re calling something out and it’s something they already know about, something they’re very mindful of, you can come in from left field and have no idea that they’ve thought about that or that they’re a little bit sensitive about it and just deliver objective or subjective feedback without realizing that’s sensitive. And so, what I think we’ve done that’s helpful that we’ve taken inspiration from other places is user guides where people communicate what they’re about, what their challenges are, how to support them. And so, if you see in someone’s thing that they take criticism about their writing particularly strongly, you might approach that differently versus just considering it’s a blank play field and you can come in with anything.
Michael Mizrahi (21:32):
And so, if it’s a so spot for me in that example that like, “Ooh, I don’t have a place to record. It was stressing me out all day to find the right setting.” And then you come in and tell me that the setting I found was bad, that lands roughly. And then there’s some ego separation that has to happen in order to receive that feedback in a way that’s effective. And so, being aware of the environment is helpful and understanding who you’re delivering the feedback to, to the trust battery piece, but also to just the interpersonal side is what helps quite a bit.
Ben Grynol (22:01):
Yeah. The idea of in order to be receptive to feedback, you have to strip away ego all together. Again, general as human beings, we’re better off by stripping away ego. We just are. Insecurity is driven by ego because we’re worried about the way that we are going to come across in a certain situation. And so, that’s actually our ego telling us not to get too philosophical and Freudian on this, but that’s our ego actually driving these insecurities saying like, “Oh my goodness, I’m not good enough.” And it’s like, no, that’s not what a person’s saying. Neither here nor there. We don’t need to go into a deep rant on that. But this last day is this idea of accepting or discarding feedback. Let’s use a video example again.
Ben Grynol (22:43):
We’ve gone into all these different rabbit holes of clown shoes and videos and Help Scout. [crosstalk 00:22:51]. Why not? Because we know each other, the video one you would accept it as cool, I get it. It’s quality. You wouldn’t take it in a bad way, but hypothetically I give Allan feedback. I’m like, “Hey Allan, the color in the app, isn’t working with this thing. Here’s the way I think that it’s making people feel. It’s a bit subjective.” I frame it that way. And he can go, “Great, I appreciate,” but he’s going to discard it because what he says back is I would like to use black on yellow, but it’s just going to destroy accessibility. We’re not going to be able to use that. That does not work with accessibility colors, and here are all the reasons why. He can discard that feedback and he can go, “Appreciate you bringing it up, but here’s why I’m going to disregard the feedback.” And then as the giver of feedback I go, “Great. I can’t take it personal.”
Michael Mizrahi (23:38):
We have the accept or discard on the receiving feedback, right? And so, that’s the decision to acknowledge that the feedback is valid, and actually see the point today and approach it with curiosity. There’s a discard piece, which is approaching with curiosity, but also understanding that there’s other factors at play or you did something very intentionally in a certain scenario that could have been misunderstood by the person giving you the feedback, but you understand the full picture, and you’re sure of that. And there’s a trap there of being so self confident and having high ego there. Just discarding feedback because you think you know you’re right. And so, there’s some subtlety there.
Michael Mizrahi (24:12):
There’s also a third category and this comes back to the interplay of the person giving and the person receiving, which I don’t think is really touched in No Rules Rules, but I’ve seen it in practice at least in some of my interactions is that there is almost like a correct category, like a pushback, which is as a receiver if you’re getting this feedback, and you’re curious about what the person’s sending it is trying to say, but also there’s context that’s relevant that is missing from that person’s view of this situation. So, if I reach out to mercy and I say, “Hey, Mercy. I saw this ticket I came across and the way you handled it was a little bit interesting. I would suggest doing this.” And maybe she just says, “Here’s how it’s actionable.” And she might actually say, “But actually, did you see these other ones where I did that same thing and here was the outcome, or there’s context to this particular interaction that you’re missing. By the way, it all happened here over Twitter DM, and it’s not visible.” And so, there’s some back and forth there that’s helpful on the accept or discard. And it’s really just from this clarify or correct category that adds some value.
Ben Grynol (25:11):
Yeah. There’s so much nuance and context to feedback in general, and I think that’s a perfect example of it. So let’s go into this idea of why is some feedback valuable and other feedback isn’t valuable. There are a number of reasons, but why don’t we go into timing of feedback?
Michael Mizrahi (25:29):
Yeah. So, I think generally we hear feedback should be timely, feedback should be timely. I think there’s reasons for that. On one hand, you don’t want to give feedback months later because it feels like you’ve been holding it in, and if it could have been valuable and helpful to that person all the time since, and you’re waiting for the six month mark when they do their performance review, then you’re doing a disservice to both parties, to yourself, to the company, to the person. So you want to give it as close as possible to the actual incident so that the situation’s clear, the context is remembered, but there’s also a flip side to that, which is timing really does matter.
Michael Mizrahi (26:03):
And so, if someone’s in the middle of an effort, they’re about to go up on stage and get this big presentation and you want to give them feedback on how they’re approaching a certain part of it. There’s the one hand which is to say they might get it right for the big presentation. And there’s a second, which you might completely derail then and kill their self esteem right in that moment when they’re like about to step out. Now they’ll be thinking of it and circling on it. So discretion advised.
Ben Grynol (26:28):
Yeah, the thing about timing, too, is from a giving perspective, if you withhold feedback because you’re trying to be sensitive towards a person and say, “Well, I don’t know how Miz is going to receive this and you hold onto it.” You might end up building up resentment towards that person because you’re like, “They keep doing this thing that you want to give them feedback on.” And then you don’t and then you feel like it’s too far gone. It’s past the point. We did this project ages ago. And instead of hitting the nail on the head and just being honest about it, all of these micro things start to take away the trust battery. And that causes a ton of issues because this feedback is no longer timely, and you think like, “I can’t give it anymore.” Did you ever listen to Reply All when PJ came up with that idea of email debt forgiveness day?
Michael Mizrahi (27:17):
I’ve heard of the concept, but I didn’t catch that episode.
Ben Grynol (27:20):
Yeah. So, they made up this day, it’s like a holiday or so. I don’t know what you’d call it a day of forgiveness, email debt forgiveness. When you haven’t sent an email and this doesn’t even have to do with feedback, but conceptually it’s the same thing. And you’re like, “Oh, I should have sent that, and a week goes by, and two weeks.” And then next thing you’re like, “I can’t send that email to the person to let them know sorry, or to follow up. I’ll just let it fizzle.” And it’s like three months later. Well, sometimes you can go years and these little things well and weigh on you because you’re like, “Remember when I didn’t email Miz and it’s 18 months later and you’re still thinking about it.”
Ben Grynol (27:56):
Feedback can be the same way where it’s like, you wish you would’ve just told the person this thing. And then you can like put it behind you and move on. Otherwise, over time, this compounds and compounds and a lot of debt is accumulated with this as far as we’ll call it trust debt, honesty debt, transparency debt between two people, between the team. It really builds up and that causes friction in working relationships or personal relationships, too.
Michael Mizrahi (28:23):
Ben Grynol (28:25):
Let’s go into this one thing before because I don’t want to forget it. Let’s make an assumption that somebody is giving very kind, timely, direct feedback. They’re approaching it in a considerate way and they’re following these four As. Not that you need to write it down to hit all these points, but they’re doing it in a way that objectively 10 out of 10 people would say, “I think that was very valuable and helpful feedback.” But on the receiving end, somebody isn’t receiving that feedback, no matter how you approach it, or maybe it’s about different things. It’s about five different things and it’s over the course of months or a year. And how do you approach it when a person is not willing to receive the feedback, no matter how you try to tell them this?
Ben Grynol (29:09):
Let’s digress for a second into something that would be very objective. I’ll put it on me just because it’s an easy example. Let’s use Billy. Billy’s a person. Billy yells at people and Billy demeans the people that he works with. And many team members try to tell Billy. What do you do when Billy is not receiving the feedback that it’s like, you can’t treat human beings like this. That’s not the way you treat people. It’s not warranted to just yell and be demeaning towards people. What do you do when a person is not willing to receive objective feedback?
Michael Mizrahi (29:45):
Yeah. There’s a few angles. In your example, you mentioned many people are telling, but assuming that that hasn’t happened. If you’re just the only one giving this feedback, whether you’re a peer or manager, whatever it might be. Approaching it from different angles might help, right? So different people might have different relationships with this person. It’s something that multiple people have recognized or seen and getting someone else to be that voice might be helpful. And so, there’s always approaching it from a different angle.
Michael Mizrahi (30:11):
There’s the meta conversation about receiving feedback, not even about that specific incident, but at the end of the day in the spirit of we’re a team not a family. If someone’s behavior is absolutely destructive and they’re not reacting to the feedback and they’ve gotten multiple approaches to it that were very clear, there comes a point where a very serious conversation has to happen between folks and that person that makes the expectations of the workplace clear, draws a line, and sets the new standard moving forward. And if that continues to not be met and it’s destructive, you have to move on to the next conversations of whether or not that person’s a fit in that environment or what the steps to remedy the situation are. That got dark fast
Ben Grynol (30:54):
I think a better way of framing it is, we’re all playing on a sports team together and a person isn’t showing up for practice altogether. You’ve got 20 people on a squad and 19 of them are showing up at 06:00 in the morning for training because that is the agreed upon time. And this person keeps either completely missing practice or sauntering in 45 minutes late. Without good reason it’s like, “Oh, I slept in, I stayed up too late.” They’re just excuses as opposed to objective reasons like my car broke down, something that would be relatively reasonable and it only happened once. I think that’s where these conversations become very objective and the person who isn’t willing to receive the feedback because there’s ego associated with it or some insecurity. That’s where having further conversations is necessary. And sometimes you can’t try to change behavior. You just have to know that we’re a team, not a family. That’s the reality of feedback. It can be very difficult though.
Michael Mizrahi (31:54):
Again, the broad goals that we started with is to improve and raise up the people around you and to improve the output of the company as a whole. And so, those are the north stars here. It’s not about just being endlessly forgiving and accepting and becoming an entire support system for someone. There’s other places in life where one should get that. And this given in the context of work. And so, making sure that that stays clear is also an important piece of this.
Ben Grynol (32:20):
We talked about separating out. So why is some feedback valuable in others? Not separating out subjective versus objective feedback. We talked about that. This is something we highlighted, but let’s touch on it again. The idea of understanding that not all feedback is feedback. So people might say, “Hey, Miz, I have feedback for you. I don’t like the brown shoes that you wore.” That’s not feedback. That’s just a subjective opinion. So there’s a difference between opinion and feedback. Opinion is the way you view what somebody else does and the way that you interpret it is much different than giving feedback on it. But saying, “Hey, Miz, the brown sneakers that you wore to the meeting seemed to be a little bit casual with a suit and people might not have taken you as seriously because they thought that you didn’t care about having a complete outfit.” Again, making it up. But that’s where understanding that not all feedback is feedback when deciding whether or not to receive or discard that feedback.
Michael Mizrahi (33:18):
Questioning whether something or not truly matters, getting down to the principles of it versus the cultural norms around something or the differences that might exist there, it is helpful to double click there. And I think it takes being genuinely curious and inquisitive and objective in this subjective feedback about what the value is, and what it adds or detracts. Do you want to chat about perform related versus execution related feedback? I think you’ve broken that out on the table and we have that in our documentation, but maybe that’s worth a double click on what the actual difference is there and what we think of them.
Ben Grynol (33:50):
Yeah. So what this idea of what can feedback be about? Well, it can be about execution. We talked about that. Like something that’s objective and execution based. Here’s how you might want to approach. Objective and execution base would be like somebody has a written piece grammatically it’s incorrect. It’s feedback about tactical execution that’s objective and that’s you can help in that way. There can be performance related meaning you are not showing up to practice. That’s performance related and controllable. You’re trying to help in that respect. It can also be about actions and behaviors meaning, and this is where it gets harder is because actions and behaviors can be subjective interpretations sometimes, sometimes not. Back to the example of somebody is treating people disrespectfully. In general, I think people would agree that that’s not okay. And so, there can be feedback about actions and behaviors that you’re trying to give and you’re aiming to assist so that somebody can go, that’s not the way we operate here.
Ben Grynol (34:50):
Another is, so we’ve got this thing, feedback can include, it’s not limited to, but interactions with team members, the treatment of others. It can have to do with managing and leading people. That being, when you talk to Braden, you might want to talk to him in this way. When you talk to Mercy, you might want to talk to her in that way because people have different personalities. Execution of projects, workflow or initiatives. This is back to timing knowing when is the right time? If it’s a micro project, it might be at the end. If it’s a macro project that takes months to do, upfront no matter what timely feedback is great. But knowing that if you wait too long to give feedback, it can actually have a worse outcome in something that would be like a multi-month long project. And then there’s this idea of feedback where it’s performance related as an individual or a member within a greater team.
Michael Mizrahi (35:42):
One piece that ties to earlier on being actionable. There’s something about knowing if the feedback that you’re giving is more a reflection of your own preferences or approach versus whether or not it actually results in a better outcome. So, I might be a real stickler for your use of the Oxford comma, but this person writes without it and double spaces after their periods. That’s a knit, that’s a peeve that I’ve got. Is my feedback giving just related to my style and approach here, or does it actually have something related to outcome and execution that matters? So, there’s subtlety there. I don’t know where that fits in with the big context here, but-
Ben Grynol (36:21):
Yeah, and something that you said back to objective and subjective is ensuring that before giving feedback a person can be introspective enough to say, “Am I projecting my insecurities on somebody else about my interpretation of the way they are executing?” Meaning like the all Oxford comma versus double spacing is perfect. If somebody says um and like, and whatever it is all the time, and that just annoys you every time somebody says this thing and you get annoyed by it. It’s like you have to remove those things and just say, “We’re all imperfect beings.” Not to be too philosophical, but we’re all imperfect beings, and I don’t do that and that person does do that. And I’ve got lots of things that I do that other people are going to view as annoying them. But annoyance is the idea of letting silly things occupy real estate in your mind for free that don’t actually matter. So, just remove those and get on with the work.
Michael Mizrahi (37:17):
There was a funny story that comes to my mind here back when I was on Twitter. This dates back to November 4th, 2012. This was quite a while ago. And I tweeted on daylight savings time, “Finally, people won’t be wrong when saying EST versus ET,” because people always just added extra letters there. And then some random guy responded and he said, “Finally, people who drink too much coffee won’t freak out when I say EST.” I was like, “Oh, point taken, this doesn’t really matter.” And it was one of those funny Twitter exchanges, but there’s relevance here in just making sure that the things you’re pointing out actually matter, not getting stuck in details that don’t really tie to any outcomes that are meaningful. So, keep a light heart about all this. It’s all just us being people, and it’s very easy to get too serious and too carried away when you’re delivering feedback. But I always remember this one of just someone calling me out for being overly ridiculous.
Ben Grynol (38:07):
Or is it on them though? They’re letting little things occupy their mind that actually don’t matter. It’s like-
Michael Mizrahi (38:14):
And that’s the story of Twitter/
Ben Grynol (38:15):
Right. But just in general, sometimes when people are… That’s where it becomes nitpicky where it’s like, “Well, don’t let that bother you.” The way to deal with people talking about… Let’s digress into this for a sec is talking about things like politics nonstop and news nonstop, and oh my goodness, this is happening. Well, you’re letting that occupy your mind for free. It’s real estate in your mind for free. And so, the easier thing to do is to not let that bother you. And I think the same thing goes with feedback. If somebody is saying, “Hey, here’s a like, like this, um, um, and you’re just getting annoyed by that. It’s like, don’t listen to it or tell the person. Just say, “Hey, when you talk for some reason I’ve got a broken brain. This is hurting my brain. Is it something that we can like fix between us?” These are all just little things to address or just let them not bother you. It’s kind of like a binary outcome. It’s one or the other.
Michael Mizrahi (39:10):
Yeah, don’t think about it and let the water go.
Ben Grynol (39:14):
There you go.
Michael Mizrahi (39:15):
Water in the fridge.
Ben Grynol (39:16):
That’s exactly what it is. There’s this idea that there’s an HBR article. So Harvard Business Review to break down the acronym, the ideal praise to criticism ratio. And the article suggests that for every one piece of constructive feedback you should five pieces of praise. Meaning it’s a lot easier for you to receive the constructive feedback if I’m constantly saying, “Hey, Miz, great job with that memo,” great job with whatever. And not just always framing it as great, but giving you helpful feedback that might still be praise based meaning, “Hey, Miz, the way that you formatted that memo was really helpful for being able to read through it.” That’s helpful feedback that is just showing you appreciate, but then you know what to do with it. You go, “Okay, next time I write a memo I’m going to think about the way that I format them because it seems to be helpful to other people.
Ben Grynol (40:10):
So doing that five times, then if I give you constructive feedback and say, “Hey, Miz, that last memo you wrote was a bit dog’s breakfast. Maybe it can be that colloquial in the feedback because we’ve got a high trust battery from all these other times of talking through when memos were good.” It’s a lot easier to receive that as opposed to five times of, “Hey, Miz, here’s a dog’s breakfast memo,” over and over. And you’re like, “I get it. I need to work on my writing.” Trust battery depletes very quickly.
Michael Mizrahi (40:41):
Yeah. And I think this just goes more broadly to building relationships with the people you work with so that you’re understood. And so that feedback positive, critical is understood in context. And the motivation is clear as well behind the person receiving it, sending, or rather behind the person sending. So there’s no misunderstandings and there’s context to the relationship that matters. And so just using this framework of delivering pieces of positive feedback along the way is a great way to build a relationship. Keep it genuine.
Ben Grynol (41:09):
Josh said this thing in our Friday Fireside. I think it was the last one that we had and it stuck with me, and it’s something that I won’t forget because it really is relevant. And he said, “If you have trouble giving somebody feedback. If you think you would have trouble giving somebody feedback, it’s likely that the two of you have a trust battery issue.” If I feel that I can’t give you feedback and I’m unsure why. Like Miz, I’m like, “I want to give Miz this thing, but I’m refraining from telling him because I think he’s going to be upset.” There’s probably a deeper rooted trust battery issue that needs to be resolved in order to get the monkey off the back, clear the table. Let’s make sure we’re good. And then giving feedback shouldn’t be hard. It’s only hard when… There are two times where it’s hard.
Ben Grynol (41:59):
One, there might be a trust battery issue and you’re like, “Okay, we’ve resolved it. We’re good. We’re in a good place now. We can have these open conversations.” The second is that you feel that it’s going to be difficult because you’ve done the praise thing, talked about all these memos. You’ve given constructive feedback and it hasn’t been well received even though it was done with the best intent. I think that’s the other thing on the receiving end. You have to assume feedback is coming with the best intent. And so, then you go, “I know there’s trust battery issues. I don’t know how to approach us any different way because a person isn’t willing to receive the feedback.” That’s where it’s back to what you were saying before. Sometimes you just need to have hard conversations. That’s the outcome. That’s the reality. We don’t need to get too deep into it.
Ben Grynol (42:42):
But anyway, that’s the way of thinking through this idea of the ideal praise to criticism ratio. I don’t know if I like that word, but positive feedback versus constructive feedback. We’ll email HBR, pop them a note and let them know. We’ve got feedback for them to change the title of their article. So this last part here is this idea of giving feedback synchronously versus asynchronously. And it’s something that we’re learning to do as an async company, as a remote company. But I think it’s something that applies to all companies, which people can get better at is that we don’t need to go down the rabbit hole of people spend too much time meeting synchronously for things that don’t need sync time. Diving into it for a second, you don’t need sync time if you’re transmitting information. You’re just telling Miz I’ll be there at 4:30 PM. I’m transmitting. You need meetings, synchronous time, if you’re transforming information.
Ben Grynol (43:36):
Now, how this applies to feedback. We’ve got this table here and it’s not perfect, but it’s a work in progress is understanding that you can actually give quite a bit of feedback asynchronously a lot more than people think. You think, “Okay, I got to give Miz feedback. I’m going to book a meeting I’m going to do all these things.” And it becomes inefficient for both people. There’s also this idea of some feedback can be written. Some feedback should probably be done as a video, if it is asynchronous, and some should be done as video or phone call. So sorry, an asynchronous like a Loom video, recorded video, and some should be a video or a phone call.
Ben Grynol (44:12):
So, we’ll go through this idea of if you’re giving positive feedback, it’s either you break it down. It’s like a decision tree. So, we’ve got it broken down into the buckets of positive feedback that’s performance related. Well, whether that’s objective or subjective, you can still give that asynchronously either through written communication or Loom. So you can send somebody a video because you want the sentiment and you can say, “This is subjective. It’s performance related. Here it is. Do what you want with it.” If it’s subjective, same thing, the person has to receive that, but it’s still positive feedback. So, it’s just like, “I wanted to let this is great. It’s subjective, but there you go.” If it’s execution related and positive, same thing, objective or subjective, it can be done asynchronously because it’s positive.
Ben Grynol (45:00):
Where you get into the territory of moving towards synchronous time is when something is constructive and either subjective or objective. Now, the only one time when you should give asynchronous feedback that’s constructive is when it’s execution related objective and something that will be helpful. So, an example would be Tony is doing an audio edit. I see that the file actually is clipping in this one place. I can record a Loom or I can just write asynchronously, “Hey, the file’s broken here,” and he’ll go, “Great. I’ll fix it.” But if there’s something performance related, whether it’s subjective or subjective, or execution related that’s subjective. Hey, Miz, the tone at forum came across this way. It’s subjective, but it’s the way you presented this thing at forum. It seemed to have a negative tone to it. That warrants a phone call or a video call and should probably be timely. And then the same thing with anything performance related. It’s always best to sync about that because you need to transform the information to understand what the other person’s position is on what you’re saying.
Michael Mizrahi (46:13):
And there’s a chance that there’s clarification or questions or discussion that adds value to the conversation. So very often if you’re giving positive feedback, objective or subjective, performance or execution related, there’s very little doubt in your mind that the feedback you’re given is valid or that it will be questioned or that the person would want to understand more. It’s certainly just like a, yep, got it. Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it, and it’s reinforcing a positive behavior. When it gets into the constructive category and not specifically something objective and execution related there’s room for discussion, there’s room for interpretation, there’s room for nuance. And these things can… Delivering that message effectively is really important and the emotional side of it really matters.
Michael Mizrahi (46:55):
And so, that’s where we start to talk about alum if you think it’s straightforward enough and you guys have good rapport and a working relationship or something more sync. If it’s tricky, there’s subtlety or nuance that requires explanation on either side and it’s just the right way to approach those kinds of situations. And so, being mindful of the reasons for that and putting yourself in the receiver shoes of what this might feel like to receive and what kind of environment you might want to receive that in. Someone’s preference might be at the end of the day to get this over a Loom and then set up a call so they can have time to think on it, react, and respond, and digest it a little bit. And then come back for a discussion of curiosity and questions. So, everyone processes this differently and just being mindful of that is an important part of this.