Over the years, I've written a lot and taught a lot about feedback. See, for example, our book, What Did You Say?: The Art of Giving and Receiving Feedback. The book has been put to good use by thousands of readers, through two editions, and especially to teams. Recently our handyman, Abel, taught me that we'd missed something
In the book, we wrote about giving and receiving feedback with one other person and with groups such as teams and projects. What we missed was feedback to yourself.
Abel had been fixing a variety of problems in the kitchen of our old house: broken tiles, a stuck drawer, a slow sink, a jammed ice-cube maker. It was a long list, and Abel worked until he had to leave to pick up his kids from school.
"Did you finish everything?" I asked.
"Yes, and I did a good job."
"You always do a good job, Abel."
Abel smiled. "Thanks. There's a few things I could have done better if I had more time and a few things that weren't in your tool room. Do you want me to come back and touch things up?"
Abel explained what he could improve, and we agreed to another visit two days later, after he made a trip to Ace Hardware. That evening, I showed Dani all he had done.
"That's wonderful," she said. "Some of those things were beginning to annoy me. He did a good job."
"That's interesting," I said. "Abel said the same thing."
"He said, 'I did a good job.'"
"Of course he did. He always does a good job.Just like you."
"Thanks," I said. "Maybe I always do a good job, but I don't always say so. I think I was taught not to 'blow my own horn.'"
Dani nodded. "You know, I think I was taught the same thing. Like when you ask me about one of my consulting jobs. I say, 'Yeah, I did okay, but I could have done better.'"
"I do the same. I think it's the 'but' that makes us different from Abel."
"Abel said 'I did a good job," yet he left off the 'but I could have done a better job."
"I thought that's what he said?"
"No, what he said, in effect, was, 'I did a good job, and I could have done a better job.' In other words, he didn't fall to either side—good or bad—but he said both. He provided feedback to himself that was much better than the self-deprecating way that we do it."
In short, what Abel knew how to do was give complete and accurate feedback, something both Dani and I have taught for decades. But what Abel did was give himself that kind of useful feedback. He corrected himself, sure, but at the same time, he affirmed himself for what he did well without discounting it with a big "but."
Do you have a big but? If so, it's time to trim down.