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When’s the last time someone pointed out what you were doing right? Not just “good job.” I mean, specifically and in detail something you did really, really well.

Ok. And when’s the last time someone pointed out an error you made, or a change you might consider, or ways to improve what you’ve done? Probably 30 seconds ago.

I believe that most feedback comes from good intention. They think they’re helping when they point out what’s wrong, because that way you can be better.

The problem, as Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall wrote in their HBR cover story this spring, “The Feedback Fallacy,” is that traditional feedback is flawed. Deeply. And it doesn’t do what you think it will do.

“People don’t need feedback,” the authors write. “They need attention to what they do best.”

You wouldn’t believe the pushback I hear on this. People LOVE their criticism. We so want to believe we’re right about what needs fixing. And maybe we are!

Part of the problem is we dive into criticism too soon—right at the tender moment when we’re risking new ideas, new efforts. And criticism can seriously tamp down your creativity.

But part of it is just that we assume that what’s working is so obvious we don’t need to pay attention to it.

That’s incorrect. Because often we DON’T know what we’re doing right. We’re all so focused on not messing up! We’re out there tiptoeing around landmines, which ties up a lot of our bandwidth, making it hard to do, well, much of anything else.

How helpful is positive feedback? Maybe at least just as helpful as negative? Maybe two times, five times as effective? Try again.

“Positive attention is 30x more powerful than negative attention in creating high performance on a team,” say Buckingham and Goodall.

Think this is some special snowflake stuff? Some kind of everyone-gets-a-trophy tactic that panders to weakness and a need for acceptance?

Wrong again.

I’ve seen what happens when you take a group of smart, successful professionals of all stripes who’ve spent a lifetime avoiding criticism, and put them in a room with new groundrules and expectations, and no fear of criticism. .

What they create blows me away, every time.

I was so excited about the HBR article because it confirms what I have seen and learned as a Gateless trained facilitator. Gateless is a methodology, an approach to creative work (read: any work), designed to quiet the critic so that you can tap your own potential—for creativity, big ideas, all of it.

We write to a prompt and share that work out loud—and what you hear back from the group is what is specifically working and why. It retrains the mind to see what’s working in others’ work, so you can see it in your own. It challenges habitual ways of thinking, and can catapult your work forward.

What does Gateless feedback sound like? Take a listen.

My fellow Gateless teacher Becky Karush has a podcast that’s based on the Gateless method. It’s called Read to Me: The Podcast to Listen for What We Love, and each week she takes a piece of work, ranging from song lyrics to classic works to modern authors, and shares a short passage, and then does a Gateless “read” on it.

This episode features a very fun mashup of Taylor Swift and our colleague Cass McCrory, a digital marketing strategist who shared something quite personal from her own life.

The reason I point it out to you now is because Cass wrote it in about 15 minutes in my Pop Up Story Salon in NYC in August. She wrote it, read it, and we all fell in love. You will too (listen to that episode here).

It just goes to how what can happen when you give yourself TIME to write and ATTENTION to what you do best.

Try it today. Go around and point out specifically what people are doing well. All day. All week if you like. Then, see what happens.

(…If this sounds like fun, btw, I’m running another Pop Up Salon in NYC WED 12/4/19. Learn more about it + hold your spot here. )

 

My family is big into board games. At around 8:30pm on any given holiday or a night when at least two people are holding beers, my brother in law rubs his hands together and asks, “Who’s up for a game?”

Taboo is one of our all-time favorites. The goal of this game is to get your teammates to guess the word you’re given—without using any of the other words listed on the card. So if the word is Santa Claus, the words you can’t use are: Christmas, holiday, December, North Pole, chimney, or gifts.

This means you have to think beyond the shortcut references that you’d normally use to explain it and start fresh. In this case, I might say, “This is a man who comes to your house the same day every year to give you things you asked for, but you never see him.” Even that may be too easy.

The most frustrating thing of all is when your teammate says something like, “Oh! You know what I mean! God. C’mon! It’s that guy! You know!”

This is a losing strategy.

In order to effectively communicate the meaning, of anything really, you need to be able to explain it to someone who doesn’t have a flipping idea what you’re talking about. And it’s what so many people—entrepreneurs, business owners, even marketers—often get wrong.

In a Harvard Business Review article called “The Curse of Knowledge,”  Chip and Dan Heath (I have no idea if they’re related), address how vague, high-level strategy language is completely unhelpful, and does nothing to differentiate a brand or a business.

The curse of knowledge is, in layman’s terms, a cognitive bias that makes it hard for you to remember or imagine what it is NOT to know a thing, because you already know it—and so you forget that other people don’t.

I see this all the time when I talk to people about their brands or missions, and they tell me things like, “I want to empower women,” and “I believe everyone can live a healthier life.” They make big, high-level sweeping statements that do nothing to differentiate them. And they skip over the nitty gritty, specific things that are SO much more helpful. They assume everyone knows. Nope.

This has real repercussions: Particularly when you try to: stand out, attract clients, make sales, close deals, or get anyone in the media to return your calls or emails. That’s when it becomes clear that…something isn’t clear.

My business partner Paula Rizzo has worked for years as a TV producer, and so she’s pitched all day and night e by people who want to get on TV and who believe they have something valuable to offer.

And she always says, “If I’m confused, it’s a no.”

The value in being able to clearly communicate what you do and why anyone should care cannot be overstated.

And if you’re having a hard time, it’s not because you’re stupid—it’s because you know too much.

Your ability to adopt the mindset of someone who has no idea and zero context on what you have to offer will determine how effectively you can land that message and get results.

Here are three points to bear in mind:

  1. We all have our shields up. There’s so much info coming at us from all angles, we can barely see straight. Your job is to get me to lower my guard. If anything you say makes me work hard to understand, I’m moving on. Your job is to compel me, to pique my curiosity, to target my need so swiftly and clearly that I am willing to get in the car with you and drive with you a bit.
  2. Don’t assume I know, or care, about anything. It’s not that I’m willfully ignorant or don’t like you. I just need to be convinced, in seconds, to pay attention to whatever it is you want to share.
  3. Play Taboo with your brand or business. It’s a good exercise: How would you, Taboo-style, describe what you do without any of the usual terms or context you’d normally rely on? Try it. It’s not so easy. Talk about it with someone who has no involvement, or, frankly, interest, in what you do. That’s a great target to practice on! When you can effectively communicate and compel someone who isn’t sure they give a damn, imagine what you do for someone who does.

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