How do you want to be listened to today?

The key to giving feedback is empathy.

When somebody trusts us enough to ask for our input on something, we can’t simply jump right in and start correcting their spelling errors and ripping apart their design.

We should begin with the acknowledgment that they’re taking a risk. Since they’re being vulnerable, opening their work to criticism, the opportunity to even give feedback in the first place is a privilege.

We also have to honor their whole person by stepping into their shoes and understanding what prompted the need for help in the first place. Because nobody asks for feedback for fun.

My standard response to those who ask for my help typically goes something like this.

Congrats on finishing this! Thanks for asking me, and I’d be delighted to check it out. What kind of feedback would be most useful to you?

It’s the last piece that’s important. Because everyone is looking for something different.

Some people simply want permission, validation and encouragement for their work, like knowing that they’re not crazy and on the right track.

Some people have a very specific goal in mind they’re trying to achieve, like design parity, copy strength or strategic direction.

Some people aren’t quite sure what they’re looking for, so they need someone to help them tease out their true needs.

Point being, there are as many ways to give help as there are people to give it to. But whatever their underlying motivation for sharing with you, part of your job as a leader is to figure that motivation out and use it as a framing device going forward.

Reminds me of something one of my therapist friends used to ask clients before they began sessions:

How do you want to be listened to today?

It sounds a bit corny, and people’s answers weren’t always specific or immediate, but the fact that he always asked was what mattered to clients.

His empathy allowed them to enter the frame together and ultimately offer feedback that facilitated growth.

How are you listening in a way that allows people to be touched by your gifts?


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Author. Speaker. Strategist. Songwriter. Filmmaker. Inventor. Gameshow Host. World Record Holder. I also wear a nametag 24-7. Even to bed.
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