BY Russell Wardrop

DATE: 13 NOV 2015


On Sunday morning I received some direct personal feedback after a Movember run round Glasgow Green: Michael is a faster runner than I am over 5k. We were 20 seconds either side of 27 minutes. Both Chris and Sandy are faster still, by the best part of two minutes.

As feedback goes it was instant and brutal. Out of puff at the finish line you can go immediately to a tent, give your number and get your time. Technology meant there was no hiding place among the jogging bottoms.

There was more feedback than a few big numbers. After 20 minutes I found I had been running 4k once or twice a week, not 5k. If I want to run faster over 5k I need to set some goals, starting with actually running 5k. And setting goals starts with feedback: You need to know where you are before you set off. On the London Tube Map App you get nowhere without putting in your current location.

It is hard to hold up the mirror, but harder still when someone else is holding it. A fellow coach came up with the phrase “compassionately offensive” for feedback workshops and coaching sessions. It’s a turn of phrase that elegantly summarises, “you might not like this but I am delivering it with the best of intentions and you will be supported in your future development”.

If you want to get the most out of feedback when it’s not as empirical as a microchip in your shoelace:

  • Give yourself time to get over any personal pain and be objective. This is easier said than done and may take time. Don’t react in the moment; allow yourself the luxury of distance. Baz Luhrmann rightly says in the Sunscreen Song, “keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements…”. For sure, but remember those bank statements are useful before they go in the bin. (Be resilient and move on, but to get better you need enough self-awareness to take the medicine.)
  • Dislike the delivery context of the message if you fancy, but look at what was said. It’s easy to conflate your view of challenging feedback with a range of other issues. It may have been delivered in a group setting, you might feel it was unkind or unfair, or said at the wrong time and in the wrong place. (Some of that may be true, but so what? Does any of it resonate?)
  • Remove the personality of the person giving the feedback from the equation. When it comes from someone we don’t like or who is different in age, gender, culture or in a myriad of other ways feedback is easier to dismiss. It is a piece of cake to push back if you perceive the giver as someone who is unlike you and, this is the cherry on top, means to tell you something you do not want to hear. (Ask yourself if you have heard any of it before, from other sources.)

A client has “FEEDBACK IS A GIFT” on the top of their happy sheets and it always makes me smile, as there are some gifts when we think “I hope they enclosed the receipt”. But such unwanted gifts are usually given with, well, the best of intentions. (Unless you think aunt Mable and uncle Jim have always been out to get you…)

The easiest course of action for a facilitator can be to side-step the feedback for an easier life in case it causes offense, compassionate or otherwise. But it’s not the road an effective facilitator travels, because effective learning is about personal reflection initially and behaviour change eventually: You won’t get the latter without the former.

I ran a few excuses in a loop last Sunday morning on Glasgow Green after I got my gift of 27m 11secs.

  • I gave up too early, at 4k, and could have kept up with Michael until the last bend. (True enough, but he would still have had more in the tank for the final stretch and I less. He is a better runner over 5k than me. End of story.)
  • My zipper top kept slipping from around my waist after I took it off as I got too hot as it was milder than forecast and it never rained.(Yup, but no one forced you to wear a slippy-zipper. Michael had a zipper round his waist too, by the way, for the entire 5k. And he does not have his own micro-climate.)
  • I was much fitter than Chris and Sandy when I was their age and would have run faster than them had I been 20 or 30 years younger. (Super, Superman. But you are where you are. You were right not to mention your former prowess at the finish line, having just finished fourth. But you did mention it, didn’t you? Super.)
  • If I had started thinking about the run when it was first planned, had measured a proper 5k distance, done more of them and set some specific goals around times, I would have run faster. (Bingo! Do you think?)
  • The first three are easy and the last one hard, though not that hard. The first three are excuses and the last one a reason. The first three are stuff and nonsense and the last one will help me, make me, run faster.

A final thought. Getting below 25 minutes for 5k by setting goals gives no guarantee I will ever be faster than Michael, Chris or Sandy because they may be doing exactly the same, from a better starting position.

Now that is feedback to reflect on.


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about the author

Russell Wardrop is our Chief Executive and is an expert on feedback. If you would like to know more about this subject, drop him an email and we will be in touch.

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