I once made someone cry because of the feedback I gave them.
I didn't mean to, of course. But it happened.
I spent many years pursuing my dream of becoming a professional percussionist, wanting to play in an orchestra or any ensemble, for that matter, that would pay me to hit a drum. And while there was a bit of a transition period between being the student and becoming a pro, one day I was there. I, dressed in my second-hand tuxedo, was being hired and making a living (albeit meagre) as a freelance player in the big smoke.
Shortly after that, I found myself no longer the student but the teacher when I applied for and got hired by the Royal Conservatory of Music as a percussion instructor.
And while my playing resume was not too shabby by then, my teaching experience was limited and no one had ever talked to me about how to give good feedback to my students.
All I had was what I had experienced myself, the way I had been taught, the good and the bad.
I left the Conservatory a few years ago after having given feedback in over 15,000 private lessons and in some 2000 rehearsals.
While I did make someone cry once (ok maybe twice), I did figure out a few things about getting people to really want the feedback you have to offer.
Here’s an interesting statistic: According to a study done by PwC, CEO turnover at the 2500 largest companies in the world rose from 14.3 in 2014 to 16.6% in 2015 – a record high.
And it’s happened to all of us at some point. You’re just going about your business doing your job like you do every day and in comes a new boss.
You might not know this person or it might be someone who you knew was shortlisted but workplace conversation turns quickly to “hey, what do you know about the new boss?”
Very rarely does a new boss come in and continue the status quo. New bosses have new ideas and often want to make their mark.
For some this is a breath of fresh air; for others it causes fear and anxiety.
So how will you react? How will you deal with the change coming down the pipe?
A lot depends on what type of person you are, or more to the point, what type of person you choose to be.
If you were like me, as a kid, you faced change head on and did so pretty often.
Every year, you’d get a new teacher, were put in a new class or sent to various lessons, played on new sports teams. In summer, you’d go to camps with new kids and group leaders.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever remember being asked, “Hey Paul, would you like to do this or that?” I just remember ending up in a lot of new situations. It just happened and I had to deal.
We may not have realized it but, as kids, change was around every corner and yes, sometimes it was scary. But you know what? We dealt and I don’t ever remember complaining about “change”.
We had resilience.
So now that we’re all grown up, where did our resilience go, and more importantly – how can we get it back?
You know who I’m talking about: they clip their nails at their desk, they air out their smelly feet right next to you, they lick the lid of their Tupperware container in a lunch meeting, they seem to know nothing about personal buffer zones.
Like me I am sure you have been to more than one dinner party where you’ve heard people complaining about a colleague who simply drives them nuts.
It’s a problem that comes back time and time again because people are people and gosh darn it we’re sensitive creatures… well except for “those guys”, right?
Sometimes, we can’t put our finger on why someone really irritates us. Sometimes, we could make a list a mile long.
Does our tendency to find some people around us very irritating make us bad people? No, it makes us very human. The question is, what we can do about it?
When I first started on my path to becoming a professional musician I didn’t realize that being able to listen well was going to be my survival skill.
I didn’t realize that it didn’t matter how many notes I could play on whichever instrument.
I didn’t realize that I could make or break a rehearsal or performance by how much I used my listening skills, thereby lengthening or shortening my career.
Fortunately for me, I learned to listen and listen well. And when I really think of it now, over the years, I have listened more than I have played, and that’s a good thing. I'll repeat that - I have listened more than I have played. Many thanks to my teachers and colleagues for telling me ( No, yelling at me) to "LISTEN!".
How about you? How many times have you thought about saying it to a colleague or employee: “I wish you would just listen more?”
Perhaps you are familiar with the famous Will Farrell and Christopher Walken skit from Saturday Night Live where Farrell plays the cowbell along with the “band” Blue Oyster Cult. In case you‘re not, you have to see it. Just Google - "more cowbell".
In this skit, he dominates the recording session by playing his cowbell louder than any of the other instruments (encouraged by the producer). As he does this, he annoys his band mates more and more with each take. Finally things come to a head and tempers flare, but in the end the band members resolve their differences. Farrell is allowed to continue his very over-the-top cowbell playing only because the producer wants – “more cowbell!”
This is a very funny skit, but what about in the real world? What happens when you have someone at work who is, shall we say, “insensitive” to the point of annoyance to others?
I think we have all experienced someone like that. Often it doesn’t end so nicely. Like in the video, this can cause a lot of tension, which usually leads to some animosity or dispute.
Pointing out annoying behaviour to a colleague is very difficult to do.
But it has to be done and here’s why:
Developing a positive attitude around honest feedback of any kind is a difficult thing to do. If we are the ones on the receiving end and if the feedback is poorly delivered (see blog on giving good feedback), it can be like a punch in the stomach, knocking the wind out of us. In some cases it can cause us to lose sleep at night. It can even make us question if we are working in the right organization. But good honest feedback is one of the most valuable tools for you and your organization.
As a matter of fact, a 2010 study by the Corporate Executive Board, as cited in a recent article from the New Talent Times, found that companies which encouraged honest feedback among their staff, and that were rated highly in the area of open communication, delivered a 10-year total shareholder return that was 270 percent more than other companies—7.9 percent compared to 2.1 percent.
As a musician I have a lot of experience both giving and receiving feedback (it is a constant in that world) but my whole perspective was changed a few years ago by an experience I’d like to share with you.
Recently I did a survey that asked people what one of their most common issues was when it comes to workplace collaboration. You’re probably not surprised to learn that one of the most common issues was that many people feel like they’re working in a silo. They feel disconnected from other departments or from the company’s overall direction. There is a lot of flow going up and down but none through and across.
It’s not surprising that working in silos is such a common problem. Often silos are built out of necessity, to group things together as organizations get larger, and it’s easy for the flow between departments to disintegrate.
I'd like to tell you about an experience I had during the early stages of my career as an orchestral musician and how I first learned about breaking through silos.