Carl Mays: Give and receive feedback wisely

Feb. 02, 2013 @ 12:13 AM

In a Classic Peanuts cartoon strip, Lucy asks Charlie Brown, “Do you think I’m a crabby person?” After careful consideration, Charlie Brown replies frankly, “Yes, I think you are a very crabby person.” Lucy glares at Charlie Brown and shouts, “Well, who cares what you think!”

Can you relate to Charlie Brown in this scenario? Obviously, Lucy was not seeking perceived truth from him. She was seeking his support to continue to be and act as she always had. Like Lucy, most of us have a common tendency to appreciate affirmation much more than we do corrective truth. This is why formal and informal evaluations at work, in the family, in sports or in any other endeavor can be rather challenging.

The 1989 Broadway play “A Few Good Men,” which subsequently became a 1992 movie starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore, tells the story of military lawyers at a court-martial trial who encounter high-level conspiracy in the course of defending marines accused of murder. In a classic scene, attorney Lt. Daniel Kaffee questions Col. Nathan Jessep, who replies, “You want answers?” Kaffee says, “I want the truth!” Jessep responds, “You can’t handle the truth!” I’m quite sure that if Charlie Brown saw the play or movie and heard this exchange, he would say, “You’ve got that right!”

It is difficult for most of us to handle the truth. But people who care enough about us and the circumstances to react truthfully to our questions or performances should be appreciated rather than rejected. Yet, whether we are giving or receiving perceived truth, we should realize the value of how it is presented. What is said is important, but the way it is said may be even more important. Maybe Charlie Brown could have phrased his reply to Lucy differently, still telling the truth but using other wording.

Maybe you’ve heard the story about the young man who sought advice from a more experienced friend on what to say to his date. The friend told him to tell the girl, “When I look into your face, time stands still.” When the friend later asked him how things went, the young man said the girl slapped him and left. The friend was flabbergasted and asked, “Did you use the phrase I gave you?” The young man replied, “Well, I couldn’t remember it exactly the way you said it, but I told her essentially the same thing. The young man’s phrase was, “You’ve got a face that would stop a clock.”

In my “Are We Communicating Yet?” book, I emphasize how important feedback is, yet how it is something that is often given and received poorly. In talking with organizations about the importance of feedback, I have suggested five categories of participants to be aware of:

Slashing Sharks are combative, going straight for the jugular, disregarding the need for sensitivity through dialogue and explanation.

Sneaky Snakes ask leading or loaded questions, playing coy games, trying to trap the other participant.

Prickly Porcupines are highly sensitive, quickly getting on the defensive and becoming deaf to what the other person has to say.

Poor Puppies are sensitive, but also passive, wanting to avoid all confrontation and keep things as they are.

Thoroughbreds do what it takes to create win-win situations. When giving feedback, they consider the needs, wants, feelings and resources of others. As receivers, they are open to ideas for growth and improvement for themselves and the team.

Many people associate corrective feedback with criticism rather than as an opportunity to look at the way things are and make them better. Obviously, both the giver and the recipient play important roles in the success of the feedback. They are a team working together for a common good.

2013 by Carl Mays, National Speakers Association Hall of Fame member and author, whose mentoring site is based on his “A Strategy For Winning” book and program. Contact or view