The Right Conditions for Feedback

This past weekend, I went out for a long run. It’s was a balmy 20 degrees, I planned for 7.5 miles, and the trail was quiet and serene. I was in a nice contemplative rhythm and I was feeling great. With about 2 miles to go, a mountain biker approached me from behind. At this point, my run went off the rails. He decided to give me some unsolicited feedback.

I was coming up on a curve and a small bridge that crosses the icy covered stream when he called out to me. “Can you hear me?” Why, yes, Mr, Mountainbiker, I can hear you with those 8 inch wide tires. I no longer run with headphones or music so I heard him loud and clear. He then says, “Drop your hands below your waist.” Ok, now I get a little freaked out. Is this guy a cop? Is he some wacko who’s going to jump me? Drop my hands below my waist? As he passes me, he says, “I know it may feel funny, but keep your arms at a 90 degree angle. And don’t cross your hands past your belly button. You’ll get more miles! Good luck!”

I’ll get more miles? Are you kidding me? Look, I’ve been running for over 8 years. I’ve run 12 half marathons and am fresh off a 1000 mile year and on my way to 1250, this year. While I’m no professional runner, I know my way around the running scene. While my form is not pretty, it’s comfortable and I’ve been injury-free. Heck, I read Runner’s World cover to cover every month!

Don’t get me wrong. I love to talk about running. What runner doesn’t? My running group meets up every weekend and when run for at least an hour each time. Sure we talk about the latest race or coolest gear. We chat about shoes, family, work, and evening activities. Occasionally, we’ll talk about running advice, and from this group, I’d take it. But from some random dude who I’ve never met? I wasn’t having it.

I spent the remaining 2 miles all in my head. Of course I know about proper arm swing efficiency. I know I keep my arms a little higher than they should be. I even lowered my arms like he said. But my last 2 miles were awful. All I could think about was this fella and his unsolicited feedback. Screw him!

This got me thinking about feedback. You can’t scroll the blogs or business rags without an article on feedback. You’ll never grow or be successful if you’re not open to feedback! I get it. I’m open to feedback. While it hurts most of the time, I value the feedback I receive. When the conditions are right and I’m ready for it.

This guy could have been legendary running coach Dr. Jack Daniels. No, he doesn’t also make Tennessee whiskey. I’m sure he had the best of intentions and felt he was helping me out. But I didn’t ask for it and I was in my own element and not ready for it.

While feedback is essential for learning, there must be some conditions in place to make it effective. We need to be open to the feedback. It should be in the moment and given in a setting that’s safe and comfortable for the individual. And, most importantly, it should come from a place of love and trust.

When feedback is given from a trusted source, the impact is greater. We seek and value the feedback from those we trust and with whom we have a strong foundational relationship. Quality feedback is received when we know the person is delivering it because they care for us and want to see us get better.

While this guy was absolutely correct about proper arm swing, I did not know him and therefore I did not trust him. Had this feedback been given to me from one of my good running friends, I’d be working on that form or we would have had a long discussion about proper form versus comfort.

When approaching feedback in the workplace, make sure the conditions are right. Set time aside to deliver it. State your intentions and address the behavior. Relay the impact that behavior has and provide a resolution to change the behavior. While it won’t always feel great to give or receive, when the conditions are right, the effects will be everlasting.

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